A Taste of Tufts: A Sampling of Faculty Research

Every year the Experimental College at Tufts provides students with a number of unique classes meant to enrich their undergraduate experience. This year, with their new lecture series, A Taste of Tufts, proposed by senior Sara Harari, E12, students have the opportunity to expand their studies beyond their individual disciplines.

Each Friday, in room 155 in the Granoff Music Building, a professor or administrator from one of Tufts varying disciplines presents their work, giving students a special opportunity to learn about research that may not have otherwise been able to experience.

Now in it’s fifth week, President Anthony Monaco will be stepping up to the podium to discuss his research experience, which spans from his days as a doctoral candidate at Harvard to his work as senior scientist and head of the Human Genetics Laboratory at Oxford. President Monaco was kind enough to answer some questions about his upcoming appearance.

Why is it important for you to give the students at Tufts a chance to see you as a researcher in addition to being the university’s president?

I have spent the past 30 years of my career being an active researcher in the field of human genetics and neuroscience. It is only in the last five years that I have pursued my interests in university administration, in addition to my research. Therefore, it is important for students to understand that their president has made significant contributions to the field of human genetics and understands the importance of interdisciplinary research in trying to find solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

Can you discuss how you decided on your research concentration that led to the two discoveries you are presenting on?

The first major discovery was the identification of the gene for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) during my Ph.D. studies in 1986. I was enrolled in Harvard Medical School’s program in neuroscience, which offered projects and faculty supervisors from all the Harvard departments and affiliated hospitals. It was through this program that I was introduced to Louis Kunkel at Children’s Hospital where he proposed to identify the gene for DMD and I immediately wanted to work with him. Several years later we were successful and many insights into the disease followed from this discovery. The second major discovery was the identification of the gene, FOXP2, in 2001 as mutated in severe speech and language disorders. This interest stemmed from my neuroscience background together with my expertise in human genetics. The identification of the FOXP2 gene was the first evidence for the involvement of genes in human speech and provided insights into the evolution and function of genes in language development.

Why do you think interdisciplinary research at Tufts is important for the university?

Many of the world’s greatest challenges will not be sufficiently addressed through the research of single disciplines. In most cases, breakthroughs in solving societies biggest problems will come at the cross-roads between disciplines and when researchers from different disciplines collaborate. Therefore, I think Tufts is well placed to leverage its disciplinary strengths across its various schools and campuses to better integrate our activities to provide innovative and more complete solutions.

President Monaco’s lecture will be held Friday March 2, Noon to 1pm, Room 155 in the Granoff Music Building. A light lunch will be  provided after the presentation.

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