Matt Scott, Geneticist

One of the most exciting discoveries over the last couple of decades in developmental biology and genetics, has been the recognition that similar genes make similar structures in very different organisms.- -Matt Scott, 2001

Geneticist Matt Scott looks at how genes build bodies. He investigates how genes gave rise to new body plans. Scott’s model is the fruit fly and the genes that control how the body is built. Geneticists, like Scott, often look at mutations to find their answers and Scott shows us a mutant fly. Mutant flies led to the discovery of Hox genes, regulatory genes that tell an embryo how to build the basic form of an animal. He’s excited to realize that very different animals use some of the same genes to build very different structures. This implies that there was an ancestral animal that had those genes. What did that ancestor look like?

About Matt Scott’s career

Matt Scott, Ph.D. is a Professor of Developmental Biology and Genetics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. He received his Ph.D. from MIT and started teaching at Stanford in 1990. Scott works with cultured cells, fruit flies and mice to investigate how normal embryos grow and to discover the genes that control development and how damage to them leads to birth defects, cancer, and neurodegeneration (the death of neurons). He, along with colleagues, discovered the "homeobox" an evolutionarily conserved component of many genes that control development (Hox genes are one class of homeobox genes).

He is presently Co-chair of the Center for Children's Brain Tumors. He has been election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Institute of Medicine, and served as President of the Society for Developmental Biology.

Career Q&A

How did you choose your present profession?
I was interested in wildlife and nature in general and from there became interested in molecular biology and genetics, and then development.

What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
I recommend they work with good scientists as much as they can, and read a lot of interesting books about biology.  It’s important to get lab or field research experience.

What do you like best about your profession?
The chance to work with remarkable and inspiring students, and the freedom to pursue important mysteries about how life works. 

What web sites and references would you recommend for viewers interested in your work that was featured in The Shape of Life series?
My current lab website; our publications are listed there.
Watch Summer Science Lecture at Stanford.