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Release: Jan. 27, 2000

UI pediatrician/geneticist to give Presidential Lecture

IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Jeff Murray, M.D., University of Iowa professor of pediatrics, gives this year's Presidential Lecture on Feb. 6, he doesn't plan to boast about his scientific contributions and achievements, although there are many. Instead, he said he wants to share his thoughts on how science has influenced his view of the world and how science interacts with society.

Murray will give the 2000 Presidential Lecture, titled: "Genes and the Environment, Science and Society," starting at 3:30 p.m., Feb. 6 at the Levitt Center for University Advancement.

"The lecture encompasses what I do and what I'm interested in," Murray said.

Murray, who headed the UI's involvement in the Human Genome Project, has always been fascinated with how genes and the environment interact to cause problems, particularly facial birth defects such as cleft palate. His interest goes beyond just understanding the basic science of genetics. As Murray explained, talk about genes and environment raise ethical and moral issues that society must consider.

"The lecture will be a chance for the university community to share those ideas," Murray said.

Murray, a faculty member since 1984, credits his high school science teacher Mr. Pine for introducing him to the world of biology. His interest in genetics came about while working in a genetics lab as an undergraduate. Murray had planned to follow in Mr. Pine's footsteps until his wife, a nurse, encouraged him to give medical school a shot. Medical school paid off, allowing Murray to find his calling.

"I am very lucky," Murray said. "My work at the university allows me to combine my interests. I like taking care of babies and sick people, but I like the science too. Pouring things into test tubes is really cool."

Although Murray believes that his work in the clinic and the lab is important, his life experiences outside the medical center -- his humanitarian trips to developing countries such as thePhilippines and Brazil -- have affected him the most. In addition to talking about the moral and ethical aspects of genetics, Murray plans to focus his lecture on these life experiences and what they have taught him.

"The problems I look at in the lab are important, but they are not the most important problems today," Murray said. "Those problems are infectious diseases, famine and the types of problems that people in this country don't really have to deal with. People in the United States, for the most part, are better off than people in developing countries. We, who are better off, have a moral, social obligation to help where we can."

Murray, who holds a B.S. from MIT and an M.D. from Tufts, joined the UI faculty in 1984 and became a full professor in 1994. In addition to his appointment in the department of pediatrics, Murray also holds appointments in the College of Liberal Arts (biological sciences), the College of Dentistry (pediatric dentistry and Dows Institute for Dental Research), and the department of preventive medicine, which has been reorganized as part of the new College of Public Health.

He also chairs the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in genetics and -- with John Keller, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery -- directs the interdisciplinary Comprehensive Oral Health Research Center of Discovery, which focuses on craniofacial research. Here, Murray is continuing his studies of the molecular genetic epidemiology of non-syndromic cleft lip and palate and the mutational basis for other craniofacial disorders. Other research projects include human linkage mapping, the genetics of myopia, glaucoma, and cataracts, and the genetics of language impairment.

Named a UI global scholar in 1999, Murray is preparing for an international clinical trial to study whether vitamin intervention will help indigent women prevent birth defects.

In addition to Murray's talk, the 2000 Presidential Lecture will include a performance of the first movement of Eduardo Gamboa's 1997 Transparencias. The piece will be performed by UI School of Music faculty members Tadeu Coelho, flute, and Ksenia Nosikova, piano.

The lecture and performance are free and open to the public.

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