The Department of Biomedicine

BBB seminar: Friedrich C. Luft

How ignorance drives science

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Friedrich C. Luft
Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, Germany

Now, late in my career, I have finally asked myself why I do what I do. In Berlin, 1992, I was assigned the task of conducting research in the molecular genetics of hypertension. I am not a geneticist, but (perhaps a German trait) I invariably follow orders. My associates and I are investigating families with autosomal-dominant hypertension and brachydactyly; the two phenotypes are always inherited together. Over 20 years, we have in Berlin studied our patients’ phenotypes on four separate occasions attempting to understand their hypertension. We have moved from restriction fragment length polymorphisms, to microsatellites, and SNPs. We have mastered gel slab sequencers, capillary sequencers, and “second generation” technology. We have suffered through positional cloning, epigenetics, microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs. We have largely failed in our search but we have never even thought about giving up. Why not? Stuart Finestein has published a book that outlines what it is about science that keeps us working in spite of frustrations. He believes the key is in discovering unknown unknowns. Our project is a good example of unknown unknowns and how we have grown with them.

Chairperson: Helge Wiig, Department of Biomedicine