by a Godzilla Movie, Chapel Hill 8-year-old Aspires to Find a Cure for Cancer
- Tucker Jones, with dad in tow, grows excited as the esteemed Dr. James
Dewey Watson walks into the vast dinner hall in the UNC Alumni Center.
in hand, he soon joins a long line seeking the scientist's autograph. Like fans
seeking a Derek Jeter autograph, the high-and-mighty of the scientific world with
nametags denoting "Dr." this or that from GlaxoSmithKline or Eli Lilly
or a major university waited to share a private moment and to get the lefty Nobel
Laureate's name scrawled on paper.
Mary Scruggs Elementary School
Chapel Hill, NC"
Tucker, a second grader, looks up at the tall, lanky Watson, his eyes fill with
"He's my hero,"
Tucker says, his angelic face breaking into a huge smile. "He was the discoverer
of DNA. I was excited when my Dad found out he was coming and told me. I had to
at a mere 8 years of age, is a scientist in a young man's body. He already has
set his mind on a path of discovery, due in large part to the inspiration of Watson's
want to find a cure for cancer - any kind of cancer," Tucker says instantly
when asked what he wants to do in life. "I want to be a DNA researcher."
Tucker will be a child prodigy just as his hero, now 72, was. Watson, who grew
up in Chicago, enrolled at the University of Chicago at the old age of 15 and
by 25 was blazing the trail of DNA discovery.
stars in his eyes, Tucker Jones waits for Dr. James Watson to finish autographing
his program at a dinner Wednesday night in Chapel Hill. "He's my hero,"
father, Paul, is eager to encourage his son and quickly secured tickets to the
first Symposium on Neurogenomics. (Paul has made a name in a scientific world
in his own right, the Internet. He is one of the networking gurus at UNC-Chapel
Hill that have over the years built one of the world's best campus networks and
pioneered content on the web such as the old "Sun site.")
night they showed up an hour early to get good front-table seats at a dinner on
the UNC campus where Watson delivered the keynote address of the event put on
by Cogent Neuroscience and UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke medical centers. Tucker is
resplendent in sports jacket and white shirt, his angelic face framed by thick,
first books he read were science books," Paul says proudly of Tucker.
how did Tucker even come to know about Watson and his DNA work which earned him
(along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins) the 1962 Nobel in physiology or
ever since I was a kid, I've been interested in life," Tucker says in a matter-of-fact
manner. "Then I heard about DNA, and I got real interested."
path to science was triggered in part by a Godzilla movie ("Godzilla vs.
Biollante") he watched with his Dad and Mom, lawyer Sally Greene. The 1993
movie pits Godzilla against a gigantic mutated rose called Biollante that includes
- you guessed it -- some of Godzilla's DNA.
wondered about the way DNA bonded up," Tucker recalls. "Then I read
the 'Cartoon Guide to Genetics.' That's what taught me how."
the Michael Crichton movies "Jurassic Park" and "Lost World"
further fueled his scientific ambition.
Jones, 8, and his father, Paul, were determined to meet Dr. James Watson. Tucker,
who says he is inspired by Waton's achievements, wants to be a DNA researcher
and to find a cure for cancer.
who also plays soccer and computer games and loves math and reading, then talked
about DNA and RNA like a PhD. But he uses the entire names - not the acronyms.
"Deoxyribonucleic acid" and "ribonucleic acid" roll off his
tongue as easily as Mom or Dad.
even has his own theory about curing cancer.
have the T4 virus attack cancer cells rather than bacteria," he responds
instantly when asked what he thinks a cure could be. "I want to make cancer
cells die. I want to produce more T4 viruses."
insight sent an old reporter six times his age scurrying to the dictionary and
web for help.
is short for "bacteriophage T4." Bacteriophage, according to the American
Heritage College Dictionary, is "a virus that infects and lyses certain bacteria."
To "lyse", according to that same dictionary, means "to undergo
or cause to undergo lysis." And "lysis" means, in biochemistry
terms, "the dissolution or destruction of cells, such as blood cells or bacteria,
as by the action of a specific lysine." So what's a "lysine"? It's
"An antibody that causes lysis."
web definition for T4 seemed to sum up part of Tucker's idea: Bacteriophage also
means "to eat."
Tucker is on to something here. T4 as in "T2" (the Terminator movie)
certainly has a killer ring to it.
meeting Watson wasn't enough for this genetic scientist in waiting. On Thursday,
Tucker went to the William Friday Center for the final day of the conference to
meet Dr. Francis Collins, who is head of the National Human Genome project. Smiling
again, he secured Collins' autograph as well.
closes his remarks by saying discoveries based on the human genome may not provide
cures for his generation but could for the next.
keenly is Tucker, a member of that "next" generation.
To find out more about T4, check out
Tucker also sent me scurrying for information of Godzilla. For all-things-Godzilla,
I'm not kidding.)
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