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Baltimore Delivers Hughes Talk

By Michael J. Ring


California Institute of Technology President and Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore delivered the 2001 Howard Hughes Lecture entitled “The Many Facets of NF-Kappa B,” on Friday, March 23 in a packed 10-250.

The lecture, hosted by the Biology Undergraduate Students’ Association (BUSA), included an hour presentation followed by a short question-and-answer period.

“We were fortunate to have Dr. Baltimore come,” said Elaine Y. Wan ’01, a former president of BUSA who helped organize the event.

While Baltimore is a popular figure nationwide, Wan said that he was eager to return to MIT. “He hadn’t come back here to give a talk since 1997 and quickly said yes,” Wan said.

Wan added that the visit had been planned for a year by herself, Lucy Q. Shen ’00, and other members of BUSA.

Baltimore speaks on NF-Kappa B

Baltimore did research on nuclear factor-Kappa B in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Baltimore said that NF-Kappa B is a transcription factor stored in the cytoplasm of the cell involved in responses to stimuli, typically inflammation or infection. “The picture we now have of NF-Kappa B is that of a rapid response system,” Baltimore said.

He explained that NF-Kappa B consists of proteins which, when triggered, cause a series of events to prevent other substances from killing cells. Cells without NF-Kappa B are vulnerable to attack from substances which destroy cells, Baltimore added.

Recent biological research suggests that NF-Kappa B may be inhibited in the progression of HIV virus, for example, and may also be involved in the working of a tumor necrosis factor called TNF-alpha.

“It was a very technical and specific lecture,” Wan said.

Baltimore converses with students

Among the events on Baltimore’s schedule were meetings with graduate and undergraduate students from the department of biology.

At the undergraduate luncheon, Baltimore addressed the subject of human cloning. Wan, noting that the topic was timely as Professor Rudolf Jaenisch had recently testified before Congress on the subject, said that cloning was “the most interesting thing [Baltimore] talked about” during his visit.

According to Wan, Baltimore stressed that American scientists should take a clear stand against cloning before further controversy unfolds.

Wan said that Baltimore discussed patent issues at the graduate student reception and also compared the environments at MIT and Caltech. Baltimore said the atmosphere at Caltech was a little cozier because of that institution’s smaller size, Wan added.

Baltimore served as a professor of biology at MIT and founding director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research before becoming president of Caltech.

Baltimore shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1975 for his work in discovering the reverse transcriptase enzyme.