Shelfie: Professor David Rowitch

Shelfie: Professor David Rowitch

  • Professor David Rowitch
    Professor David Rowitch

Nigel Bush/Reeve Photography Philipp Ammon.

CAM browses the bookshelves of Professor David Rowitch, Head of the Department of Paediatrics.

What’s the matter with Kansas? How conservatives won the heart of America by Thomas Frank

In this book, Thomas Frank explores how the campaign of George W Bush involved politicians rallying poor, disenfranchised social conservatives to the theme of anti-abortion, leading people to vote for politicians that would lose them their roads, schools and other things that they held dear locally. He focuses on Kansas, but the wider strategy became a lesson in how politicians can manipulate voters around ideas that are not necessarily good for them. What with Brexit and Trump, it could hardly be more relevant. I am particularly concerned about Brexit, which is very bad news for international collaborative science, so I think this book is more relevant than ever.

I wound up hunting out the author and applying (successfully) to work in McMahon’s lab.

The WNT-1 (INT-1) proto-oncogene is required for development of a large region of the mouse brain by Andrew P McMahon and Allan Bradley, 1990, Cell

This paper influenced me not only intellectually, but also personally and practically, because I wound up hunting out the author and applying (successfully) to work in McMahon’s lab using the technique he’d written about. At the time I read it, I was really interested in using a technique called ‘gene knockout’ (whereby individual genes are removed from mice to see what the mutation results in) to study the effects on the development of the brain. The problem was that many individual genes wound up compensating for others. But this paper showed that the removal of one particular gene called Wnt-1 was critical for the development of a mouse brain because the knockout mouse lacked a large region of mid- and hindbrain. The paper quite literally changed the course of my career.

Rats, lice and history by Hans Zinsser

This book, which traces the history of Western civilisation through the lens of the microbiologist, is read much less today than when it came out in 1935 and yet it’s such a thought-provoking read. In it, Zinsser clarifies that man’s destiny has been controlled by microorganisms. For instance, the Black Death had a determining role in shaping medieval society and typhus determined the outcome of many important battles. I was a medic training in paediatrics when the head of the hospital I was working at chose this as his book club choice and I’m really grateful as it’s so stimulating.

It’s a dramatic example of evolutionary biology and a beautifully written scientific paper.

Complementation of the mitotic activator, P80CDC25, by a human protein-tyrosine phosphatase by KL Gould et al, 1990, Science

This paper, from Paul Nurse’s lab, which came out when I was doing my biochemistry PhD on bacterial viruses at Cambridge, had a profound effect on me. One of the remarkable features of biological systems is the high degree of conservation of the function of protein that can be found in man and the simplest organisms, but this principle was only truly established as recently as the 1980s, and in this paper a human gene was inserted into yeast, correcting a fatal flaw. As such, Nurse – a Nobel prizewinner – shows how the simplest model of organisms can be used to gain fundamental insights into human biology and disease through direct comparisons of human genes and their distant evolutionary cousins in other species. It’s a dramatic example of evolutionary biology and a beautifully written scientific paper.

Interview by Kate Hilpern. This article first appeared in CAM - the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, edition 80. Find out how to receive CAM.