It took Mary-Claire King, now at the University of Washington, 17 years to home in on the BRCA1 locus, and that work, Jane Gitschier writes in PLOS Genetics, wasn't even her first major study. Previously, King, then working in Allan Wilson's lab, studied the genetic distance between humans and chimpanzees, work that wound up on the cover of Science.
Gitschier chats with King, discussing her fearlessness as well as little quirks that helped her research progress.
King notes that Wilson taught her "to believe in evidence and to be very methodical and very self-critical, and then when you are sure about the data, unless somebody can literally disprove you with better data, to not be intimidated by anybody."
King also says that her work was helped directly by Cathy Schaefer, who is now at Kaiser Permanente, and indirectly by Nancy Reagan. Schaefer helped King get her job at the University of California, Berkeley, by fighting for her appointment with the search committee, and Reagan, who had breast cancer, placed a national spotlight on the disease, enabling King to enroll more women in her study.
And King is now, in part, the subject of a new film, called Decoding Annie Parker. King, who did not know about the movie in advance, has seen it saying the acting is very good. "It's a girl empowerment film and it makes that point very well," she adds.