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A Scientist, Evolved

A Scientist, EvolvedA leading developmental geneticist at only 42, Tufts graduate Sean B. Carroll has quickly risen to prominence in his field -- but he isn’t afraid to act his age. Boston.

Boston [06.24.03] In an interview with Nature, Sean B. Carroll said that if he were to be portrayed in a movie, it would star Jack Nicholson and be directed by the famously off-beat Coen brothers. This may be an apt portrayal of the Tufts graduate - a renowned molecular biologist and geneticist who occasionally co-produces rock videos depicting his lab's work. A leading expert in developmental biology and genetics, Carroll is not afraid to have fun while pursuing his groundbreaking research.

"I take what I do seriously; I don't take myself seriously," Carroll - who earned a Ph.D. in immunology from Tufts' Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at only 22 - told The Scientist.

Now 42, Carroll has published over 100 scientific papers during his 20-year career. An investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor of molecular biology and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Tufts graduate became interested in developmental evolution while a postdoctoral researcher.

"Paleontologists were interested in how form changed, but they couldn't say where form came from," Carroll told The Scientist. "It made me decide to study developmental genetics."

The Tufts graduate said that he knew early on that he made the right choice.

"That first year in the lab was amazing," Carroll said of his start in molecular developmental genetics - a new field at the time. "I worked like a dog. That was seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day. The only thing that shortened it up was when the Celtics were in the playoffs."

The Tufts graduate told The Scientist that with his research he hopes to learn "some of the history of life, and mechanisms that underlie the development of complexity and evolutionary change. Long-term for me is the big picture, which is the sum of a whole lot of little pictures."

Carroll - whose honors include the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award and a selection by TIME magazine as one of the nation's 50 leaders under 40 - told Nature that he predicts "the rewriting of population genetics in terms of functional biology" will be the next scientific advancement in his field.

For the time being, the Tufts graduate - who did his thesis research in the lab of current Sackler dean and biochemistry professor David Stollar, M.D. - says that his lab is studying evolution at several developmental levels.

"We continue to be interested in evolutionary mechanisms at three levels: the macro level, about major changes in body design; at the micro level, which is variation between species; and at the molecular level, to see how change arises," Carroll told The Scientist.

He added, "Anybody who is a specialist would say, that's ambitious. My answer: Life is short."

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