Gerald Rubin, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

TITLE: Vice President, HHMI; Executive Director, Janelia Farm Research Campus




FUNDING AREAS: Scientific research and education


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IP TAKE: Rubin has been a scientist and researcher for decades, working for HHMI since 1987. Today he helps guide the foundation's strategy of employing scientific researchers so that they have the freedom to take on long-term, flexible projects and making grants that lead to scientific discovery in educational settings.




PROFILE: Fruit flies feature prominently in memories of biology class. It seems that scientists were always coming to major conclusions because of them. First, there was spontaneous generation—which is not a thing, the fruit flies tell us. And then, along with Mendel and his pea plants, fruit flies seemed to inspire a lot in the way of genetic discovery. Why? Well, for one thing, fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans, making them great proxies for understanding human genetics. They also don't live very long, allowing scientists to observe lifetime and generational biological effects of experiments over relatively short time periods.




Gerald Rubin is an expert on fruit flies. His claim to fame: He led the publicly funded effort to sequence the fruit fly genome. Hughes is also vice president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and executive director of its Janelia Farm Research Campus.




HHMI is a huge operation. Founded in the 1940s by Howard Hughes, the owner of Hughes Aircraft Company, the pro-science foundation now boasts assets of more than $18 billion and sponsors the research of hundreds of scientists working across the United States. The group's premise: Invest in extraordinary people, rather than narrowly defined projects, and brilliant, society-altering science will follow.




Indeed, HHMI can claim some pretty impressive achievements. Its scientists have amassed Nobel Prizes and National Academy of Sciences Memberships and have made contributions in scientific fields from engineering to neuroscience. Janelia Farm is an HHMI research facility in Ashburn, Virginia, where (according to the Janelia Farm website) "scientists from many disciplines gather to collaborate on some of science's most challenging problems." As with HHMI itself, Janelia Farms is interested in exploring science with the ultimate purpose of benefiting mankind at large.




Rubin comes to the top of HHMI as a top-notch geneticist and neuroscientist. He worked as a professor at Harvard, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and University of California, Berkeley. Rubin has been an HHMI investigator (and National Academy of Sciences member) since 1987. Over the years, he has amassed a number of awards for his work, including the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, the National Academy of Sciences U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology, and the Genetics Society of America Medal. So while Rubin has influence on how HHMI's money gets spent these days, he's done his time on the other end of the lab-funding equation and has an understanding of researchers' plight in finding support for their projects.




Unlike some scientific research-focused foundations, HHMI employs its scientific investigators instead of providing short-term grants to independent researchers for specific projects. However, HHMI does provide funding to medical, dental, and veterinary students for biomedical research through its Medical Research Fellows Program. Additionally, HHMI has other programs to fund scientific education and research in K-12, undergraduate, and graduate settings.




Information on the various scientific education and research grants for students (and the schools and universities that train them) is available here