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Vital Signs:
Investigator Insight

In this section, we highlight the human side of biomedical investigation, putting a few questions to a researcher at DMS-DHMC.


Charles Brenner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Genetics and of Biochemistry

Brenner joined the DMS faculty in 2003 and is also a member of Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. His research focuses on understanding the cellular pathways controlled by two related genes found in organisms from yeast to humans; in one case, his lab is developing strategies that will kill precancerous cells that have lost one of these genes.

How did you decide to become a scientist?
In college I told an artist friend that I wanted to design exhibits at science museums. He told me that if I did that, science would pass me by. He argued that I would want always to be on the cutting edge. He was right.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you like to be?
I think I could make a living as a designer, an interior decorator, or a gardener.

What's your favorite nonwork activity?
Camping with my wife, Loraine, and son, Freeman, and we haven't done it enough.

If you could travel someplace you've never been before, where would it be and why?
For years, I have promised my wife that I'd take time off so she could show me her old haunts in Europe. She was born in California and raised in New Mexico but spent five years in Europe.

What music or radio programs do you listen to most?
I listen to New Hampshire Public Radio and get a lot of good music secondhand these days from people I am close to.

What about you would surprise people who know you?
That I was quite involved in contact improvisational dancing in the mid-1980s when I was living in the San Francisco Bay area.

Finish this sentence: If I had more time I would . . .
Do an experiment myself, start to finish; cook a magnificent meal; spend the whole day with my son.

What advice would you offer to someone who is contemplating going into your field?
Reverse genetics is harder and much more interdisciplinary than you think.

Who was your scientific mentor?
Kuni Matsumoto and the late Ira Herskowitz taught me to think like a geneticist. My graduate advisor at Stanford, Bob Fuller, and his graduate advisor, Nobel Laureate Arthur Kornberg, as well as Bill Jencks at Brandeis, taught me to think like an enzymologist. And my postdoc advisors at Brandeis, Greg Petsko and Dagmar Ringe, taught me how to do crystallography and run a laboratory.

Do you always have a working hypothesis in the lab?
Even on the most discovery-driven projects like a crystal structure, a mutant hunt, or a micro array, it helps me greatly to be driven by a hypothesis. It is important to note that the hypothesis does not have to be correct to be helpful, but it has to be detailed enough to be falsifiable. Do you find that people have misconceptions about your field? I dodge around a lot, sometimes telling people that I am a geneticist and sometimes saying that I am a biochemist or a crystallographer or a cancer biologist or a cell biologist. This way I can work with whatever people know about science and tell them a little more.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
Too soon to say, but I think we may get there later this year.

What bores you?
I am not easily bored . . . probably doing dishes.

If you would like to offer any feedback about this article, we would welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.

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