Testimonials for Pioneer Member Howard Goodman
Frederick Ausubel –There have been many seemingly improbable events in my life that have made a big difference, but meeting Howard Goodman for the first time was one of the most important. I say improbable for two reasons. First, I was invited (with John Bedbrook) to teach the first Cold Spring Harbor plant course in the summer of 1981, even though in those days I knew very little about plants. Second, Howard was a student in the course, but also a Professor at UCSF and well-known as a pioneer in recombinant DNA, being the first to clone the insulin and growth hormone genes. Not surprisingly, Howard excelled as a student, but he also excelled at having fun, leading to a very memorable summer. A year later, Howard moved to Harvard Medical School where he founded the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and consistent with his interests in plant biology, invited me to become a faculty member in his new Department. You might imagine that being a “plant biologist” at a hospital could be a somewhat daunting experience, but Howard was an outstanding department chairman and provided amazing support, financially, scientifically, and personally. Once a new faculty member was hired, Howard absolutely trusted them to pursue their interests, including branching off into new areas that were potentially risky. In those days, my laboratory was studying nitrogen fixation genes and the Rhizobium-legume symbiosis. But what had gotten me excited about plant biology in the first place was Arabidopsis thaliana and the possibility of creating a model system for plant biology. I have told the story many times that when I heard Chris Somerville give an Arabidopsis talk at a Gordon Conference in the summer of 1984, I decided that I would switch the focus of the lab to Arabidopsis-pathogen interactions, with much more of a plant biology focus than my previous work on nitrogen fixation. Howard fully supported this change of focus. Indeed, Howard also decided to work on Arabidopsis, fully understanding the power of being able to clone Arabidopsis genes by means of the construction of physical genetic maps. Howard had a vision about how good science gets done and created an amazing department based on that vision. I am mostly retired now and closed down my lab in 2018, but I was a member of the Department of Molecular Biology for more than 35 years and never thought once about leaving.
Jacob Brunkard – When I started my Ph.D. studies in the Zambryski Lab, Howard was a regular presence at lab meetings. At first, I didn’t know about his stellar scientific accomplishments; I knew him as the friendly, energetic, engaging mentor who asked all the right questions, honing our communication skills and holding us to the highest standards of scientific rigor. Later, I began to realize just how many of the techniques and foundational knowledge I was using for my project originated with Howard’s group, whether molecular approaches for cloning genes, sequencing genomes, or mapping mutants (among so many other methods). After I completed my Ph.D. studies, Howard continued to act as a mentor and friend, helping me to establish my own lab at UC Berkeley and later in the Genetics department at UW Madison. Going forward, I aspire to continue his tradition of asking the tough questions and holding myself and my students to the standard of excellence Howard established.
Tessa Burch-Smith – It has been an unqualified pleasure to know Howard Goodman. I met Howard when I was a postdoc in the Zambryski lab, and he was the elder statesman of the group. He was always kind and generous with his time and ideas, and set a sterling example of always being curious. Apart from his excellence in science, he was a wonderful source of information on the Berkeley cultural scene, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him report on his adventures, be they triathlons, safaris or exotic vacations. I am honored to belong to the group of those mentored by him and will always be grateful for his contributions to plant biology and our development as scientists and citizens.
Chi-Lien Cheng: My postdoctoral experience in Howard’s laboratory was one of the most important stages in my life. It was there I went through a “metamorphosis” from a naïve PhD to a mature scientist. This could only happen with his patience and trust in my ability to succeed. His pioneering spirit challenged his postdocs to think boldly and reach high. Even today, I still feel that spirit propelling my scientific thinking.
Brian M Hauge – Howard is very forward thinking and was on the forefront with respect to new technological advances. In the early days of DNA sequencing, Howard’s lab was one of the few in the world that had the ability to sequence DNA. His lab was the first to clone the genes encoding the therapeutically important human growth hormone and insulin proteins. As a postdoc, I had the pleasure of working in Howard’s lab on a project to produce a physical map of the Arabidopsis genome. Howard had realized that the physical map would greatly simplify DNA cloning, so research efforts could focus on asking important biological questions. The project was a lot of work and now seems quite primitive in the modern era of NexGen sequencing technologies, but it represented the start of plant genomics. Howard is truly a Pioneer, not only plant biology but also molecular biology.
Lu Huang – In the Summer of 1992, my husband went to Boston to interview with Howard for a postdoctoral position. I met Howard in his office briefly just to say Hi. Then I was going to leave to visit the MGH human resource office to seek job opportunities. Howard stopped me and said, “I can offer you a job”. A job opportunity came from the sky just for me! Howard is not only a pioneer in science, but also a caring mentor.
Inhwan Hwang – Howard was a mentor who gave us a great deal of freedom to explore whatever we wanted. This is a most precious thing for young scientists, and I was really grateful for that. I stayed in Howard’s lab for 5 years doing a lot things without any pressure for research grants or publications. That 5 years in Howard’s lab is the most memorable and happy time of my scientific career. In addition, he was a role model of the type of scientist we wanted to become. He showed me how a scientist treats a scientific discovery, no matter how big or small it is. I am very happy to support him as a pioneer of ASPB.
Robert Kingston (on behalf of The Department of Molecular Biology, Mass. General Hospital) – In his role as founder and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Howard Goodman provided transformative support for my early career. I later succeeded him as Chair and was able to observe from that vantage the extraordinary job he did in establishing an environment that allowed members the freedom and support to do great science. I first met Howard when I applied for a position in his newly formed department in 1983. My postdoctoral mentor at MIT, Phil Sharp, strongly recommended joining this new department based upon the supportive structure and the talented scientists Howard was hiring. The collegiality, fiscal support, and openness to bold science allowed me and others to pursue research directions in ways that would not be possible in most academic environments.
In 1990, I had learned about the genetic studies on the Polycomb-Group (PcG) that demonstrated this set of genes played fundamental developmental roles. Genetic suppressor screens and initial cloning and sequencing of PcG genes indicated a role for modulation of chromatin structure as a key facet of PcG function. I approached Howard and said that I wanted to expand the work on chromatin structure in my own laboratory to add functional biochemistry on PcG complexes, but this would be a long process and I would not be able to generate outside funding for many years. He encouraged the work and supported it with departmental resources. In 1999, we published a paper announcing the first purification of a PcG complex (PRC1) and its ability to stabilize chromatin structure. In 2000, we received significant NIH support for this research that continues to this day. Our PcG work has been the centerpiece of my research career. The fiscal support from Howard that allowed me to launch this effort was important, but perhaps even more important was the atmosphere that Howard had established in which he and my faculty colleagues enthusiastically encouraged bold long-term directions.
One of Howard’s strengths in establishing the department was to clearly delineate it from the clinical departments at MGH. He felt that a basic research department at a hospital should function with the same broad-based exploration of biology as would happen in a university setting. The most striking example of that philosophy was the establishment of a substantial program in plant biology, including constructing a greenhouse on top of a hospital research building! Howard and Fred Ausubel both did research on plant biology, and later Jen Sheen joined the department to work on her plant research program. These efforts, starting in 1983, played a significant role in helping to establish Arabidopsis as the “reference” plant for plant biologists and for many key discoveries in plant signaling pathways. The intersection in the department between research on plants, C. elegans, Drosophila, and mammalian systems created a vibrancy that enriched everyone’s efforts. The technological advances and strategic approaches that resulted from Howard’s vision have become part of the fabric of research throughout MGH and are now widely viewed as being central to establishing MGH as a world leading academic medical research center.
I was named Chair of the department in 2005, when Howard retired from MGH and moved to Berkeley. In that role, I inherited the pleasure of introducing Jack Szostak to the press and to the Governor when he won the Nobel Prize in 2009, and hosting receptions for Jack and for Gary Ruvkun when they won the Lasker award, and Gary when he won the Breakthrough prize. These were people Howard hired and supported in early career stages. In my administrative role, I was once again the beneficiary of Howard’s vision, as hospital leadership congratulated me for our success, which was, of course, primarily Howard’s success. Five of the first ten faculty Howard hired have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, as have three subsequent hires. That is a remarkable achievement for a small (14-16 faculty) department. In recognition of his achievement in founding and establishing our department, Howard was awarded the Trustees Medal from MGH, which has been given to approximately 25 people in the history of the hospital. Howard is one of the rare people who excelled at the highest level scientifically and at the highest level administratively. His legacy in founding a durable basic research department within a hospital setting that supported young faculty and that was a fertile training ground for students and fellows (including Jennifer Doudna and Joanne Chory) makes him one of the most influential scientific leaders of the past 40 years.
Hong Gil Nam – I worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Howard’s lab from 1986 to 1988 before I came back to Korea as an assistant professor. My experience with him provided me with an intellectual transformation. I worked on yeast and had no experience in plant biology before I joined Howard’ lab for plant genomics, but he took me in his group and that was a life-changing opportunity for me. My time in Howard’s lab was indeed a thrilling experience with his intellectual stimulation and personal warmth and was one of the happiest moments in my life. He greatly influenced my way of doing science, especially in adopting and integrating other fields and technologies outside biology. I see his influence all along my career. Howard! Congratulation for the recognition as an ASPB Pioneer. Stay energetic as you have been always.
Laurence Rahme – Howard has been an inspirational leader with a great vision. His pioneering work at UCSF and the founding of the Department of Molecular Biology testifies to it.
Jen Sheen – I admire Howard as a truly extraordinary molecular biologist with remarkable vision and a pioneering spirit. He built a miraculously unique department in which frontier and innovative research, including plant biology, were fully supported and freely explored in the unconventional environment of a hospital and medical school. Howard’s incredible foresight and bold initiatives in plant genomic projects created the original Arabidopsis databases and made possible the first map-based cloning of Arabidopsis mutants. I am forever grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity enabled only possible by Howard and his unconditional and enthusiastic support.
Ming-Che Shih: I was very lucky to be a postdoc in Howard’s lab between 1984-1988. It was the time when the lab started working on Arabidopsis. Howard gave us a lot of freedom to develop projects to fully take advantage of Arabidopsis. I sequenced several genes associated with carbon fixation and glycolysis and felt they could be used to test an evolution theory. Unfortunately, neither Howard nor I had training in phylogenetic analysis. Howard encouraged me to put aside lab work and spend time to learn the basis of phylogenetic analysis. I therefore disappeared into library for three months and came up with a nice paper. I am forever grateful for Howar’s mentorship that has guided my scientific career.
On the surface, Howard looks very stern (that was my first impression of Howard when I first visited MGH in 1983). On the contrary, Howard is a very warm person. During the weekends I often brought my son, who was 4 years-old in 1984, to the lab. When Howard came to the lab and saw him, he always stopped and chatted with him. Howard knew my son was crazy about cars. One Saturday in 1988, Howard drove his brand new Audi to my house and took my son for a ride. To this day, my son still remembers fondly his experience at MGH.
Ethan Signer – Howard was kind enough to host me in his laboratory during my sabbatical year in 1986-87, when most of my research was transitioning from nitrogen fixation in Rhizobium to plant genetics in Arabidopsis. I very much appreciated both his generosity and my scientific interaction with him and the members of his laboratory, and it’s a great pleasure to support his designation as an ASPB Pioneer.
Solomon Stonebloom – I was fortunate to meet Howard while completing my PhD in Pat Zambryski’s lab, where he was a regular member of the lab. He was thoughtful, kind, incredibly knowledgeable and asked deep, challenging questions that helped me to grow as a young scientist, particularly when preparing for my qualifying exam. When I met him, I did not know about Howards incredible earlier scientific career, besides that he had been a mentor to Pat early in hers. He was a humble, curious member of the lab who was there, participating in scientific research because he loved to do so and wouldn’t let something silly, like retirement, get in the way. Seeing Pat and Howard hunched over a microscope together, staining mutant Arabidopsis embryos, was somehow both incredibly cute and inspiring.
Lin Sun – Howard was a great mentor and a pioneer in so many ways!
Venkatesan Sundaresan – Howard established a remarkable department of molecular biology at MGH. He broke barriers and recruited exceptional plant biologists, like Fred Ausubel and Jen Sheen, who set up labs alongside leading animal biologists within a hospital! A latecomer to plants, Howard’s own lab was at the forefront of plant research, including a farsighted and underappreciated contribution to the Arabidopsis genome project by initiating the sequencing of whole Arabidopsis chromosomes.
Dominique Van Der Straeten – I was extremely fortunate to receive the opportunity to perform the first part of my PhD work in Howard’s lab at Harvard. Howard was an outstanding and inspiring mentor. His support and confidence formed a unique driving force. I cherish fantastic memories of my days in Boston. My most sincere thanks to you Howard, I feel honored I could be part of your group!
Marc Van Montagu – We all recognize Howard as an outstanding scientist in view of his pioneering contributions to molecular biology of animals and plants. This is thanks to his innovative work in gene cloning and RNA sequencing.
In retrospect what I find highly remarkable is his ability to identify cutting-edge research topics considered to be technically impossible by his peers and to make them achievable. Whether it was RNA sequencing in the sixties, recombinant DNA for producing peptide hormones in the early seventies, or the molecular basis of plant physiology in the eighties, Howard was an explorer of the world of life sciences. Each time, he mastered the science and created the assuring team spirit, to convince his students that the race was worthwhile and promising. His wisdom in recognizing personalities and respecting self-development of talent has made him a superior mentor. His achievements have undoubtedly opened new approaches and new fields of research in life sciences. Communicating the beauty of science, emphasizing its importance, and at the same time instilling confidence are among his exceptional accomplishments.
Pat Zambryski – I have had the pleasure of working closely with Howard first as a postdoc for 7 years at UCSF (1974-81) and for then again for over 10 years post his retirement (2005) from Mass General Hospital/Harvard, when he moved to the west coast again, and joined my lab at UC Berkeley. Howard’s contributions to science are too numerous to list, not only in “green” plant research, but also in “red” animal cell research. Howard was an incredible mentor during my postdoctoral years. His lab at UCSF was filled with extremely bright, creative, and productive postdocs from all over the globe. Howard’s lab did not have one or two or three projects, but 10 projects. Howard worked extensively at the bench himself, to bring state of the art new technologies to the lab, to facilitate our research endeavors. I was an extremely timid postdoc, and will be forever grateful to Howard for allowing me to quietly pursue several research topics over the years in his lab. This support and freedom were critical for me to develop as an independent scientist. I followed the model of Howard’s lab when I started my own lab at Berkeley; basically, bring in good people, and support them to make their own discoveries. When Howard joined my lab at UC Berkeley we decided to do experiments together. Neither one of us had worked at the bench in many, many years. This was good fun as we muddled through dissection of extremely tiny plant embryos and their analysis by high resolution fluorescence light microscopy. Of course, Howard’s presence and commentary at our weekly lab meetings was a special treat for students and postdocs. Thank you, Howard, for your longtime mentorship and friendship!
Hong Zhang – Howard gave me the opportunity to study Arabidopsis at a prestigious institution, and exposed me to an environment where amazing discoveries were made constantly. This helped make me a better scientist, andI am grateful to Howard for ever.
John Zupan – I met Howard after he retired and returned to the Bay Area, working at the bench in Pat Zambryski’s lab where I was the lab manager. One of the highlights of my time in Pat’s lab was that Howard’s bench was next to mine. Howard’s scientific interests were skewed toward Arabidopsis while mine were toward Agrobacterium. So, we discussed the theater, food, travel, and bicycling. Howard and Deborah were active participants in the Berkeley live theater scene and I got many outstanding recommendations of things to see (or not). We also shared an appreciation of the diverse culinary opportunities available in the Bay Area and often compared notes on our recent restaurant experiences. Howard’s and Deborah’s travel schedule was very full and I thoroughly, albeit vicariously, enjoyed his African safari. Howard and Deborah inspired my wife, Susan, and I to maintain an active life after our own retirements. Finally, Howard and I share a passion for cycling. Regrettably, we only shared one day of bike riding- Howard found a combination of a road race and a time trial for seniors where we could test our abilities. Neither of us finished very high, but we finished and I’m pretty sure that’s the point. It was a great day. Although our scientific interaction was limited, I want to echo Pat’s point that Howard’s knowledge, experience, and perspective were probably the most valuable to us in our weekly lab meetings. I also want to say that Howard’s insights were not primarily historical. Howard is a very responsible scholar and many of his comments were based on the most recent papers that many of us had not yet read. I have been very fortunate in many ways to have spent my career in Pat’s lab, and one of the most significant of these was to cross paths with Howard, an outstanding scientist and human being. Thank you for everything you shared with me.