SICB Division of Evolutionary Developmental Biology (DEDB)

DEDB Researchers Database Entry

The Evolution of Multicellularity and Cellular Differentiation
David Kirk grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and attended Northeastern University in Boston under the "Co-operative Program," in which students spend half of each year in school and the other half working in a related field. He had the good fortune to be assigned a Co-op job in the research labs of Dr. Jerome Gross at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where he developed a chronic infection with the research bug. Four years later, as he left MGH for the University of Wisconsin's Biochemistry graduate program, Gross advised him: "If you want to be happy in science, find a quiet backwater where there are lots of big fish to be caught and not many people fishing." Despite this sound advice, however, he spent the next several years working on various fashionable aspects of animal development (such as the development of B and T lymphocytes) , competing constantly - and quite unsatisfactorily - with other more ambitious vertebrate chauvinists. But then in the mid 1970's (by which time he was a tenured member of the Biology faculty at Washington University) he heard about the sort of "backwater" that Jerry Gross had referred to: Volvox biology. For the rest of his career he has had a ball fishing in this water, studying the genetic basis for the evolution of multicellularity and germ-soma differentiation in the volvocine algae - no longer looking over his shoulder and worrying about whether he was about to be "scooped" by some unknown competitor.