Wednesday, October 10, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The yeast of knowledge

Dr. Lee Hartwell's Nobel Prize is a triumph for all the gifted men and women laboring in the scientific basement, doing the fundamental research.

Hartwell, a professor of genetics and medicine at the University of Washington and president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, won the prize awarded in physiology or medicine.

His early work with yeast cells explained how genes make cells divide. Hartwell's investigation of the complex mechanics would allow others to better understand how mistakes in the process result in cancerous cell growth.

Advances in clinical therapies, which often attract the attention and the awards, build upon the knowledge gained from Hartwell's research.

Yet, his work 30 years ago with humble yeast cells was dogged by nagging doubts the processes were sufficiently close to human cells to be of value. He proved the skeptics wrong.

Hartwell has a gilded scientific education, but this future Nobel laureate needed a shove from high school and community-college science teachers who spotted his talent and intellect and pointed him in the right direction.

Combined with his own tenacity and work ethic, the result was a Nobel Prize. It's a win for those who seek to explain how we are all put together.


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