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Interview with Michael W. Young

Michael Young, born in 1949, talks about growing up in Miami, Florida and how the environment (where “biology was all around”) helped feed his early interests in biology, chemistry, and how things worked.

Young remembers his years at the University of Texas at Austin (where he earned a B.A. in biology in 1971 and a Ph.D. in genetics in 1975), the importance of Burke Judd’s mentorship, and his first research experiences and discoveries. He recalls learning as a new graduate student in 1971 about the PNAS article from that same year by Ronald Konopka and Seymour Benzer on the period gene and mutations that affected Drosophila’s sleep-wake cycle and asking them for the mutations so he could study them. He describes his time as a postdoc (1975-1977) in David Hogness’ lab at Stanford University, where DNA cloning was being developed, new molecular tools that Young knew would be essential to answering the next big questions about genes and how they work in multicellular organisms. Young discusses why it was important not to have a hypothesis on how circadian rhythms work, but rather to conduct an extensive genetic screen and then focus on understanding the role of individual genes that revealed themselves to play a part in the flies’ circadian rhythm.

Young, who shares several major awards, including the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall, describes the satisfaction of their being recognized for bringing molecular biology and a gene-based approach to the study of circadian rhythms.

This short film is excerpted from the oral history interview conducted with Michael Young on Feburary 5 and 6, 2018.