Welcome to The Beutler Institute!



Bruce Alan Beutler

Director, Centor for the Genetics of Host Dedense,

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, USA


One hundred years from now, it may be that all but a very few Nobel laureates are forgotten.  But if this Institute succeeds and flourishes as we have every reason to think it will, students 100 years from now will speak with pride of how they learned about immunology and genetics at the Beutler Institute.  In short, this school may be the real legacy of my life and work.  

I would like to speak to you personally today, and from the heart.  I was born in the United States, in Chicago, IL.  My parents and grandparents had emigrated from Europe before the Second World War.  My father was a physician and a distinguished scientist, well known to Professor Chen, and a good friend of his during his lifetime.  Like the children of immigrants worldwide, I had a somewhat strict upbringing, and education was strongly emphasized in my family.  I was extremely lucky to have had this upbringing, and in large part, I must credit it for my own success.  I found myself passionate about biology from an early age, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to a University, perhaps medical school (and in the end, I did so), and by whatever means, become a scientist.

I went to college in California, at a rather new school at that time:  the University of California at San Diego.  In visiting Xiamen, and I have been here several times now, I can’t escape the memories of my own college education.  The schools look similar.  The meteorological climate is similar.  And the intellectual climate is similar.  UCSD in its early days had an air of promise and excitement about it, just as the new Xiamen University does today.  Both attracted outstanding scientists, and students who wanted to be pioneers.  That is what I see in Xiamen, and it makes me happy to contribute to it in any way I can.

Of course, college students are young enough to be strongly impressionable and form memories that last a lifetime.  To this day, I remember many of my professors with great fondness.  Dan Lindsley, Paul Price, Rick Firtel, Stanley Miller:  these were just a few of them.  I still remember, mostly in flashes, particular phrases they spoke in their lectures.  And I remember a few of the great lectures with perfect clarity.  But even if we forget with time, we must all grant that our teachers make us very much who we are.

I happen to remember that in those days, it cost $500 per year to attend UCSD.  In short, almost nothing.  To receive such an education for nothing is a tremendous gift, and like most students, I didn’t realize that then, but I certainly realize it now. 


How can one repay such a gift?  Well certainly by passing knowledge on to other students in turn.  That’s the economy of education, and it is how our entire species has advance itself from the primitive state of existence that obtained just a short time ago in evolutionary terms.  One moment we were animals living on the African veld; now we are what we see around us, using cell phones and flying across oceans to visit one another.  That’s miraculous, and it happened because we developed the means to archive our knowledge, pass it on to younger generations, and build upon it from one generation to the next.  That’s what education is:  an unbroken chain, and a mostly unspoken contract we have with our species. 

This may sound a bit abstract. To make it more concrete, I ask you to consider what would happen if all people above the age of 20 were suddenly to vanish. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that chaos would reign, then mass starvation, and before long, the end of civilization with all its amenities. Who would deliver medical care? Who would assure the supply of electricity? Who would fly planes? Despite the energy that young people have, and their good intentions, without the practiced skills, guidance, and experience of their elders, the world would indeed come to a grinding halt. On the other hand, if all young people 20 and below were to vanish, we’d all be very sad, but civilization would endure.  It’s knowledge, and the continuous transfer of knowledge, that sustains the world we live in. We must treat knowledge as a genuine commodity, to be grown, transported, and distributed as we would the foods we eat, the lumber we harvest, and the minerals we use for so many thousands of purposes.

My good friend Vice President Han was my very first graduate student.  I can’t take credit for his success, except in a very small way, because I know he was highly educated and highly dedicated by the time he came to work with me.  It was Han who proposed the idea of a Beutler Institute, and Han who suggested it should be dedicated to teaching, at least in the beginning, rather than to research.  As the idea took root in my mind, I began to like it more and more.  And I began to have some of my own thoughts about its purpose.

First, it would be for the most elite and talented students. Those who are hungry to learn about nature, and those who already understand, or are capable of understanding, the power and the importance of unbiased inquiry.

The logo of the Institute emphasizes this and I will explain why I chose it. It reads:  Naturae studere, mente aperta (“Study nature with an open mind,” meaning without bias).  The most important teachable conclusion I have reached in my career is that one must never dictate to nature; one must accept what nature has to say.  And where possible, one must even avoid making guesses in order to be quite certain that the main lessons are not missed.  In genetics, we let the organism tell us how it works; we don’t try to suggest how it ought to work.

Second, these students would learn mostly about genetics and immunology. Why?  Because that’s what I can teach, and what my colleagues can teach.   And some of my colleagues are indeed extremely knowledgeable, and these students will be learning from some of the best minds in the world.   Also, because genetics and immunology are two of the most important and beautiful sciences.  In fact, they made the world we live in today, at least in some of its most important aspects.

Third, these students, or at least the very best of them, will be given a chance to see science abroad. Possibly some will pursue their graduate studies abroad. And from there, they will return to China to teach what they have learned, produce new knowledge through research, and transfer knowledge to others among the best and brightest of students.

Finally, to help them with this last-mentioned opportunity, and to assure that they can compete successfully in the global scientific environment, it will be necessary for them to sharpen their linguistic skills as well. Science is and will always be a forum for competing ideas, interpretations, and plans. And for someone to flourish in science, strong communicative skills in English, both written and spoken, are essential. Science oriented English classes will be a part of the curriculum too.

The program will be a challenging one. And all of us should hope for its success, because among the hundreds, then thousands, of students who follow the curriculum, it can be hoped that many will go on to great accomplishment.  Nothing would please me more than to see them change the world for the better. And one day, dare I say, some of them might even win Nobel Prizes for China.