Genetics Links Boyden Siblings in Multiple Ways
By Richard Veilleux
Steven Boyden insists there's nothing in his family's genetic code - that he is aware of - that would predispose him and his three siblings to study molecular and cell biology. Nor can he put his finger on why the four are academic stars. He can, however, explain their affinity for UConn.
"Laurie [Class of '97] had a very positive experience here, and it just filtered down that UConn had excellent faculty in MCB [molecular and cell biology]," he said. "It was clear we could get a great education here. We knew we wouldn't be shortchanged at UConn."
Steven Boyden, who will graduate May 18 with a degree in molecular and cell biology, as well as minors in physiology and neurobiology and mathematics, will become the third of four Boyden siblings to graduate from UConn. He also is the third Boyden to have attended UConn on a Nutmeg Scholarship, offered annually to the most promising high school students in the state. In addition to sister Laurie, their brother Eric (Class of 2000) also graduated from UConn.
"Steven is a fabulous young person," says Linda Strausbaugh, a professor of molecular and cell biology and Boyden's honors research advisor. "I also worked [in the lab] with Eric, and Laurie took some classes with me, so I've really grown to know this rather remarkable family. Steven is extremely intelligent and a wonderful team performer. He's at the top of every class he's taken with me, including a graduate-level course he's finishing right now.
"Steven has a unique combination of intellect, analytical skills, personality, and technical skills," Strausbaugh adds. "I have every reason to expect something big from him in the future."
Actually, big things may develop from the laboratories of all the Boydens. Steven next year will join his brother Eric in Harvard Medical School's doctoral program in biological and biomedical sciences; Laurie is working on a doctorate at Cornell in plant breeding; and the eldest of the four, Lynn, is completing post-doctoral work in genetics at Yale.
The four display further remarkable similarities in intellect: all finished first in their class at Granby Memorial High School with near-perfect SAT scores (their mother, Joanne, and both her parents also were first in their high school classes in Massachusetts), and all three Boyden graduates of UConn will have left summa cum laude. Yet Steven says there is no competition between them to make the first important research discovery.
"Definitely not," he says, "certainly not directly. There's so much room in science to produce your own work, I don't think any of us ever felt the need to compete. Also, there are enough years between our ages that, even if we were in the mood for it, I don't think there would be any competition."
Although following a slightly different research path, both Eric and Steven studied the evolution of repetitive DNA sequences in Strausbaugh's genetics lab. Strausbaugh says Eric looked at problems related to, but different from, those Steven is researching. Steven's research, she says, is "very difficult and very different from the methods traditionally studied. There are a lot of repeated elements that are tough to track."
Steven agrees the work - creating a model of how repetitive DNA sequences behave in all species - is difficult. But he also says the research is nearing the stage where he, Strausbaugh, and Jason Shiotsugu, his graduate advisor, will have results that can lead to answers about how these particular sequences work. Ultimately, he says, the research could have medical implications - some repetitive sequences, he says, have been linked to Huntington's Disease and Myotonic Dystrophy, a relative of Muscular Dystrophy.
It's all, as Strausbaugh says, pretty "remarkable."