What to do when a billionaire loves your brother …

Well, many people confuse me with my brother, Michael. I guess, if they do not know us, it is understandable. He is at Berkeley. I am at Davis. He works on genomics related things. So do I. We both are passionate about PLoS and Open Access publishing. We both went to Harvard. We both spent time at Stanford. I could go on (we used to look a bit alike … see the lovely family portrait). Sure, sometimes I get sick of people asking me questions about microarray clustering software and Drosophila.
But most of the time, it only is good for me. Like today. If people want to confuse me with my brother today, fine by me. That is because today, HHMI announced the selection of their new “Investigators”. Becoming an HHMI Investigator is the scientific equivalent of getting a sugar daddy. They give you money to do whatever research you want to do. They call it “People, not Projects.” or something like that.
So – I saw some of the press on this and mostly it was very general – just talking about how HHMI is really important when NIH budgets are flat and all. But then this afternoon, I was listening to NPRs “Marketplace” when they do a story on the HHMI announcement. And I am thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if they mention my brother? And so my ears perked up. And they discussed some background a bit and then Tom Cech, the head of HHMI, was explaining why they want to give money to people with no restrictions and he said

TOM CECH: Often in the course of research, you stumble upon leads to your question that were different from what you originally proposed and by funding the person, not the project, we are freeing people up to follow those leads.

For example, he says, one investigator started out studying retroviruses, but he switched gears and started building miniature arrays to look at the expression of genes in an organism — don’t worry, I have no idea what that means either.

CECH: But before long, he was looking at typing various sorts of leukemias and lymphomas and breast cancers. So he moved into the cancer area with tremendous results.

Certainly sounds like he was talking about my brother, who worked on flu viruses for part of his PhD (ok, they are not retroviruses, but they are RNA viruses), and did a post doc working on arrays (with Pat Brown and David Botstein) and also then used arrays to do cancer classification studies. Sure, he could also be talking about Pat Brown but hey, I am going to pretend he was talking about my brother since it is pretty close.

So, sure, I am a bit peeved they did not select me (thankfully, it seems on first glance that they people they did pick all pretty much rock in terms of science so it is not like I lost out to a bunch of dolts). But I am not jealous. Proud would be more accurate.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

4 thoughts on “What to do when a billionaire loves your brother …”

  1. That’s awesome about Mike — I heard a little while ago and have been meaning to congratulate him. Next best thing — I was squatting in his abandoned office at LBL but someone finally showed up and removed the desk.


  2. The list is available at < HREF="http://www.hhmi.org/cgi-bin/inv2008/search.pl?kw=&ns=&is=&ls=&rs=&ss=&ks=&it=&sf=name&sd=1" REL="nofollow"> this site <>And Jonathan, why subcontract to me? I am just going to quit and try and join his lab …


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