I decided to contact Dr. Vanin today, seeing as how we had a very brief crossing of paths at Ohio State University back in the late 1980’s when I was a Ph.D. student there. I audited one of his courses to see what I might learn from him. It was quite intimidating to say the least. His intellect and breadth of knowledge was formidable. Later on, I found myself at a cross-path with him again in the office of my advisor, Dr. Ralph Stephens. I was nearing the end of my research there and Ralph wanted to give me a jumping off point as insurance against my research possibly blowing up in my face. So we all sat there together while Dr. Vanin discussed his research on a cell line that had a huge deletion of DNA in it. I can’t remember all the details but I’m sure it could be looked up easily enough. He was quite proud of that cell line and very possessive of it. He wasn’t about to share it with anybody else for fear of being scooped. Before he could continue, I casually mentioned that his DNA deletion resulted from the detachment of a DNA domain within the chromosome. Ralph shot a look at me, then at Vanin, who was now staring at me like a deer in headlights. I believe I elaborated on it in some detail, but this was a long time ago. So I was at a crossroads. I could take the safe route and get on board with Dr. Vanin, keeping my mouth soundly shut for the duration of my tenure as a Ph.D. student, or I could continue with my research on my own. Well, as you might have guessed, the rest is history. When he and I walked out of Ralph’s office, he stopped, turned to look at me, and said something I will never forget for as long as I live. “They will KILL you for this!” Now I was the deer in headlights. Suddenly, all the veneer, niceties, and pretense of civilization suddenly peeled away under the blast of his words. His primal, visceral comment chilled me to the bone.
Well, I waited one year too late to contact him because he passed away January, 2016 with 90 publications to his name and a spectacular career. Elio Vanin was the quintessential brilliant biological scientist, top of his field. But on parting company with me for the last time at Ohio State, the best this otherwide amazing man could muster up was: “They will KILL you for this!”
As I think back on it, the reason that I wanted to contact him again after such a long period of time was to ask him questions in response to his final comment to me: Who exactly, are “they “ and why would they want to kill me? If anybody has an answer to that one, please feel free to share it with me, because Elio cannot. However, from what I have experienced throughout my lifetime on this earth, I think I may already know the answer.