Mario Capecchi is one of the Italian Nobel Prize winners with a more adventurous life and represents the classic example of the American Dream, as well as a model to inspire all those people who want to make science their mission.
In the interviews he has given, he presents himself as a humble man, although the incredible goals achieved, and does not deny his difficult childhood, at the time of war and misery.
It is striking that he calls himself one “good student, but not serious” back in school and that in high school he was more interested in sports (especially wrestling), than to study.
Capecchi was born in Verona in 1937 in an unusual family context: the father, an Italian soldier, and the mother, poet of German origin, they never married.
After the disappearance of his father in Africa and the deportation of his mother to Germany, as adverse to the regime, little Mario was first given up for adoption and, then, abandoned. As he told in numerous interviews, he lived on the street for a few years, joining a gang of street kids, who stole for a living.
In the meantime she also lost track of her younger sister, with which he managed to get back in touch only in 2007.
After the end of the world conflict, reunited with his mother, emigrated to the United States, where their maternal uncle helped them for the first time.
Despite the first difficulties, given by actual gaps in his primary education and the language barrier, Capecchi still managed to attend high school and then enroll at university, up to obtaining a PhD in Biophysics at Harvard, under the supervision of a Nobel laureate, James Watson, who wants him personally by his side.
From there, his academic career has never stopped: first assignment as an assistant in '69 and then a lecturer at Harvard and at the UnUniversity of Utah, a Salt Lake City, where he still resides.
But it is only in the 2007 that Capecchi, together with colleagues Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies, Ph, that is a method that, through the use of embryonic stem cells, allows to obtain organisms characterized by the absence of a specific gene.
This invention made it possible to develop the first knockout mouse, in which some specific genes are rendered inoperative.
This animal model is widely used in medicine for the in vivo study of gene function. Applications, indeed, they are many, from the study of tumors, to embryology, as well as immunology and neurobiology.
Personally, Capecchi was also interested in the Hox gene family in mice, that is, the one that plays a fundamental role in the embryonic development of all multicellular animals, in particular with regard to multilateralism.