You’re invited to this free program: Swimming & Your Genes, starring Dr. David DeMarini, genetic toxicologist with the EPA. As summer approaches, we’re going to be discussing David’s research into swimming pools and drinking water.
In preparation, David was kind enough to share a little bit about himself.
Where did you grow up? Peoria, Illinois (yes, I played in Peoria). My father, Santa, ran a bar (I grew up in a tavern), and he was a first-generation Italian immigrant with only an 8th grade education. My mom was a nurse (Irish from Iowa); it was a fun mix of cultures–we ate spaghetti with potatoes. There are 4 boys, and 3 of us went into the health sciences (2 Ph.D. geneticists and 1 M.D. pulmonologist).
What did you want to be when you were a kid? A performer–anything would have been fine–singer, dancer, actor, musician (I’ve co-founded 2 theater companies, acted in a bunch of plays, and play piano–second-rate pop/B-way, and jazz). My science career ended up satisfying my urge/need to perform–with lots of world-wide invitations to speak and lecture–combining my love of science and my desire to entertain.
How did you get interested in science? I always was curious about how the world worked, and science seemed to provide the most satisfying explanations to me; and I was pretty good at science in school. However, the “magic moment” came during my last semester of my senior year of college when I took genetics (from the finest teacher of my life), and I was hooked–I found my muse and my bliss–environmental mutagenesis, which has become a nearly 40-year love affair. (I ended up doing my M.S. and Ph.D. under that remarkable genetics teacher–Herman Brockman at Illinois State University.)
In one sentence, describe your job: I examine the air, water, soil, food, urine from people, etc. for mutagenic activity and try to determine the types of mutations such substances induce and how those mutations might cause human disease such as cancer.
What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that your colleagues don’t know about? I learned to make “cappelletti in brodo” as a kid from my Italian grandmother (la mia nona). It is a pasta stuffed with chicken, beef, cheese, and lemon zest that is cooked in a beef/chicken broth–peculiar to the region east of Firenze (Florence) where my family is from. I make a huge batch every winter that lasts for 6 months (thank heavens for freezers), but I have never shared this delicacy with either friends or colleagues–it’s only for “la famiglia.”
If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would incorporate mutagenesis testing of the air and water in this country to go along with the chemical monitoring of air and water that currently occurs in order for us to know how mutagenic and thus, potentially carcinogenic, our air and water really are–based on actual toxicology measurements.
Great answers, David. We’ll see you on Thursday. Please bring some “cappelletti in brodo.”
We hope to see all of you at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill by 7pm. Remember to get there early for some delicious appetizers sponsored by Sigma Xi.
Jonathan Frederick is director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He's ready for someone to invent teleportation.