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From Undergrad Job to Minimal Genomes

Clyde Hutchinson's biology career started with a job as an undergraduate in a biophysics lab, The Scientist writes. He'd started at Yale University with an intention to major in physics, but switched to biology as he pursued a PhD at Caltech because of that undergrad job in Harold Morowitz's lab.

At Caltech, he worked with Robert Sinsheimer. Hutchinson was intrigued, The Scientist notes, by work being done there by Robert Edgar and Max Delbrück ad wanted to apply their gene-mapping approach to the ΦX174 bacteriophage Sinsheimer worked on. He then moved on to a faculty position at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and spent a sabbatical in Fred Sanger's lab in the UK where he sequenced ΦX174.

Hutchinson also became interested in what a minimal genome would be and, in the early 1990s, developed a map of the Mycoplasma genitalium genome. He later joined with Craig Venter at his eponymous institute where they synthesized an M. genitalium genome and created an M. genitalium with a minimal genome.

"To me, a minimal genome is less important than having one where we know what all of the parts do. If we have that, we can make a computer model of how the cell works," Hutchison tells The Scientist. "Having a computer model based on a living cell will be a satisfactory explanation of how gene function predicts cell behavior and what happens if you add or take away genes or change the environment."