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Saturday, April 1, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dr. Harold Weintraub Loved Genes And Jeans

Few things outside his family - or shooting hoops with a pickup team - gave Dr. Harold M. Weintraub more pleasure than finding elegant answers to the intricate questions of molecular biology.

As a founding faculty member of the basic-sciences division (1978) at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and as a genetics professor at the University of Washington, he pioneered the understanding of how cells develop according to genetic "orders" - or lack of same.

"Hal was one of the most important scientists of his generation," said his associate, Dr. Mark Groudine.

"He had a breadth and depth of thinking that allowed him to identify the important questions of biology and develop the strategies to answer those questions."

His solutions were simple yet brilliantly creative, based on wide reading and leavened by the workings of an open, playful mind.

"He called me the morning he was waiting to undergo brain surgery," said Dr. Richard Axel, a Columbia University researcher and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Bethesda, Md.) colleague. "He said we needed to talk. I agreed we should, because I didn't know if we'd ever see each other again.

"Then he said, `I just read your paper, and it's full of holes.' "

Dr. Weintraub, who died of brain cancer Tuesday at 49, also was down-to-earth: He favored jeans and T-shirts, drove "a beat-up old car," and enjoyed traveling, seeing movies and trying new restaurants with his family.

This former pitcher on the all-city high-school baseball team in his native Newark, N.J. - where he also was a football fullback - as an adult, captained the Hutchinson Center's basketball team.

His wife, Nancy Weintraub of Seattle, said her husband just took enormous joy in doing science:

"He did his own experiments with his own hands even when he headed his own lab, when the heads of other labs long ago had given that job to others."

Recently he and his laboratory team isolated the gene MyoD and demonstrated its function as a "master regulatory" gene that controls the development and differentiation of muscle cells in animals.

Dr. Weintraub, who earned awards for his work and belonged to many professional groups, graduated from Harvard College in 1967.

He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and began his research career in 1972 as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory headed by Dr. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Dr. Weintraub was a faculty member at Princeton University before joining the Hutchinson Center. He also served as editorial adviser for scientific journals.

"But he was a very humble guy," said Groudine. "He was probably the one person who didn't appreciate himself and his accomplishments as much as everyone else did."

Besides his wife, survivors include his sons Adam and Joshua of Seattle and brother Andrew of Rhinebeck, N.Y.

No services are planned. Remembrances may be made to the Weintraub and Groudine Fellowship, to support research bridging the fields of basic biology and clinical medicine, c/o Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1124 Columbia St., Seattle, WA, 98104.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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