Elwood Linney, PhD – Biography
Elwood Linney received his BS in engineering physics at the University of Illinois. Having been accepted for graduate school in physics at various universities in the Midwest, he chose to go to Michigan State University because of his growing interest in biology and the fact that he could transition into their biophysics department as a graduate student. While he performed some photovoltaic studies of beta-carotene in that department, he did not find what he wanted in terms of scientific studies. In fact his major experience during that time was going down to Mississippi during the summer of 1966 to participate in a program to aid recent black high school graduates be better prepared for college—and to participate in the final leg of the Meredith March against Fear led, in part, by Martin Luther King.
Dr. Linney obtained a master’s degree in biophysics and then joined Peace Corps Training in Hawaii. He left the program but taught high school science and math at Kealakekua, Hawaii on the Big Island for nine months. After that year, he joined a PhD program in Biology at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla. His thesis research was on the molecular biology of the bacteriophage fx-174. He received a Damon Runyan Postdoctoral fellowship to perform research in a new Department of Microbiology at SUNY Stony Brook, however, the new laboratory was not equipped to do research when he arrived so he moved his fellowship to the laboratory of Dr. Gordon Tomkins in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco. Within a year, Dr. Tomkins died after surgical complications. While in San Francisco, he began to work with mouse embryonal carcinoma (EC) cells, the conceptual precursor to embryonic stem cells.
In 1978, Dr. Linney set up his first laboratory in apartment 2 of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation (now the Burnham Institute). His work involved exploring the sequence specificity of expression in embryonal carcinoma cells. Using viruses to explore gene expression specificity, his laboratory isolated polyoma mutant viruses that overcame the stem cell block of expression and replication. The mutants could be as small as a single base change in the transcriptional enhancer region of the virus. Using these sequences, vectors were made to express genes in stem cells, and retroviral vector sequences were modified to allow their use as expression vectors in stem cells.
In 1984, Dr. Linney moved to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Duke University Medical Center. He was asked by the Comprehensive Cancer Center administration to setup and direct the Shared Transgenic Mouse Facility. His work then expanded to mouse embryo work and since he had been studying retinoic acid induced differentiation of mouse embryonal carcinoma cells, when retinoic acid receptors were discovered, he began a series of studies to look at where retinoic acid activity was present in the developing embryos through “transgenic retinoic acid indicator lines of mice”. After spending a sabbatical year at Duke’s Center for In vivo Microscopy working with scientists there to derive a three-dimensional archive of mouse embryonic development using magnetic resonance microscopy, he moved his research to working with the zebrafish model so that he could make fluorescent transgenic zebrafish that would allow his to continuously visualize gene expression in a developing vertebrate model.
His recent work with zebrafish has involved examining the roles retinoic acid and retinoic acid receptors play in early development—more recently in an epigenetic switch for gene expression; the vulnerability of the early vertebrate embryo to compounds that affect neural activity (pesticides and pharmaceuticals), resulting in adults with learning/behavioral differences (through collaborations with the Levin laboratory in the Department of Psychiatry) and developing assays for increasing throughput for using zebrafish for screening for compounds that affect neural activity. During his time at Duke, besides setting up and directing the Shared Transgenic Mouse Facility, he set up and ran a Transgenic Fish facility for Duke’s Superfund Center, directed a small NICHD funded Center on Neural Tube Defects (focused upon mouse models), and directed the Duke unit of the NIEHS funded Toxicogenomics Research Consortium after Dr. David Schwartz left Duke to direct NIEHS.
(Drawing by Caitlin Linney)