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Preface/Front Matter

Bruce Alberts


It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to begin this volume with a tribute to the large community of scientists who have been devoting their life to studies of Caenorhabditis elegans. Should this preface be read by individuals outside the scientific community, they may well wonder what it is that motivates the thousands of individuals around the world who spend 80 hours a week thinking and dreaming about this tiny nematode worm, only about 1 mm long and formed from 959 body cells. To the uninitiated, let me begin by making it clear that this is not one of those inexplicable personality cults. The person who started it all in 1965, Sydney Brenner, often exudes both karma and charisma in his monthly essay in the journal, Current Biology. Nevertheless, it is an attempt to understand the worm that grips and inspires those thousands of scientists —not Sydney.

I was fortunate to begin my own career in molecular biology at a time when the traditions of the early bacteriophage workers, led by Max Delbrück, still predominated. Our research was performed in a relatively small community of scientists, where most heads of laboratories knew each other well. Much data were freely shared, with the confidence that personal integrity would ensure proper credit for the source of new discoveries, without the need for priority established by a publication record. The enormous growth of our enterprise has eroded this feeling of trust during the past 35 years. But a strong tradition

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