For our global science issue, we asked several of our international members to answer some questions about themselves and science in their countries.
Professor in the department of biochemical sciences
Sapienza – Università di Roma
How long have you been an ASBMB member?
Maybe as much as 40 years? I am not sure. I believe it was not called ASBMB yet. My name was submitted by my mentor, Professor John Fuller Taylor, a pupil of Mansfield Clarke.
What do you study?
My field of research has been, by and large, the structure, function and dynamics of proteins. I worked on myoglobin and hemoglobin for years and then on oxidases and other redox proteins. Over the last decade or so, my main interest has been protein folding.
What are some hot research areas in your country?
Limiting myself to the life sciences, structural biology of proteins, stem cells and cellular therapy, immunology and molecular oncology, and micro RNA and cellular control.
Where do you see research going in your country in 5 to 10 years?
Unfortunately, at present the perspective is very negative. Many politicians talk about the roles of research and universities as essential components for the recovery of Italian national and international standing, but there is very little positive action. Very few of our research institutions command the respect of the public. We still have good students sometimes, but many of our best Ph.D.s go abroad for good. If there is no serious change in the course of action, the shortest response to your question would be: down the drain.
Are there any barriers to collaboration?
It is so variable from place to place that I can hardly present a sensible answer. In principle, of course, collaboration is encouraged and sometimes it works well. Italians working abroad, and especially in the U.S., have been very hospitable and positive.
Where do you get most of your funding?
The Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, private foundations, and the European Union.
How do you think research in your country differs most from research in the United States?
The paucity of funds for curiosity-driven science and of grants targeted to younger researchers makes it difficult for most starting scientists (no matter how smart) to become financially independent and thus to pursue their ideas. If and when they succeed, it is often because they are protected by the system. Moreover, the peer review procedure needs to be perfected, and evaluation of merit should have concrete effects in the allocation of resources.
Did you do any of your training abroad?
Yes. At the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen, Germany (with Manfred Eigen) and afterward at the University of Illinois in Urbana with Gregorio Weber (both in the second half of the sixties).