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Fall 2001

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Genesis matters

     Evolution and genetics have been much on the minds of Skidmore’s freshmen this semester. In fact, they took up the topic before they arrived on campus: the required summer reading for their Liberal Studies 1 course was Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, a futuristic novel set in the archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin.

Maverick but Nobel-winning scientist Kary Mullis kicks off the fall semester.

     Taking up the LS1 leitmotif, Skidmore’s Opening Convocation featured the outspoken and controversial DNA-research pioneer Kary Mullis, who also participated in some classes earlier in the day. Mullis won the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which quickly amplifies DNA so that scientists can “read” it, compare it, and even alter it. Without PCR, police labs couldn’t efficiently test DNA evidence, the human genome project would have been agonizingly slow, and countless medical and agricultural initiatives would never get off the ground.

     Vice president and director of molecular biology at Burstein Technologies in Irvine, Calif., Mullis is anything but a staid, lab-bound scientist. In his Skidmore comments—in which he revealed he’s an avid surfer and a former experimenter with LSD—he charged that today’s scientists too often compromise objectivity in their greed for grant money and corporate support. He advocated skepticism and curiosity when assessing scientific news—for example, global warming was a built-up paranoia, he said. Mullis also dismissed ethical objections to human cloning. “I don’t think it’s such a big deal,” he said. “There’s nothing unnatural about your kids having your traits.”

     Offering yet more provocative thoughts about the knotty issues of genetics, Skidmore’s Tang Museum opened the semester with Paradise Now, an art exhibit exploring cloning, evolution, racism, and other debates sparked by the genetic revolution. —KG, SR


© 2001 Skidmore College