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The Old and the New

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The New York Times' Claudia Dreifus recently sat down with Janet Davison Rowley — the medical-doctor-turned-geneticist known as "the matriarch of modern cancer genetics" — to talk about her career and her discoveries. When she started her work in 1961, genetics was very far from an established field, Rowley says, and there were no tools to help researchers study DNA. But by 1972, when she made her discovery about chromosome translocation — a "revolutionary finding for genetics," Dreifus says — new techniques like banding of genetic material were starting to change all that. Rowley says the type of work she was doing back them wouldn't be possible today. "I was doing observationally driven research. That's the kiss of death if you're looking for funding today," she tells Dreifus. "We're so fixated now on hypothesis-driven research that if you do what I did, it would be called a 'fishing expedition,' a bad thing." But, she adds, "fishing in good. You're fishing because you want to know what's there."

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