Lubchenco's academic children — Paine's grandchildren — have been steeped in 'relevance' from the start. “We were all surrounded by this environment where it was encouraged to think about steps connecting the science to policy,” says Heather Leslie at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, a former Lubchenco student.
Gaines epitomizes this approach. The ultimate blend of the Paine and Lubmengo heritage, he is an experimental ecologist who uses basic science to influence policy, is not shy of collaborations and has won a national award for mentoring. “Steve sits right at that sweet spot in many different ways,” says Lubchenco. Whereas Paine studies how species interact on individual shores, Gaines looks at connections across entire oceans. He has shown that the larvae of fish and other marine life sometimes drift for hundreds of kilometers on ocean currents, even if the adults are fixed in place. “When Bob removed the sea star and got an explosion of mussels, those mussels were coming from somewhere else,” he says. These planktonic drifters connect disparate parts of the ocean, with huge implications for marine reserves, where fishing is forbidden. Rather than reducing fish catches, Gaines showed in 2005 that these reserves have the potential to make nearby fisheries more productive as their larvae disperse and replenish the stocks.
Gaines' own students, in the style of the entire family, have branched out into new areas. Kate Smith, who did her PhD with him and is now at Brown, applied Gaines' ideas on dispersing larvae to understand how infectious diseases disperse. Her ecological interests are the same as those of her academic parents and grandparents — where organisms are, why they are there and how they influence each other — but applied to microbes and continents, rather than invertebrates and tidal pools. “It's all related to connectivity,” says Gaines.
There are other ways than Paine's to spawn a dynasty. Take, for example, the chain of biological luminaries that emerged in the 1940s, beginning with physiologist James Shannon at the US National Institutes of Health. His descendants — including Steve Brodie, who did pioneering work in drug metabolism and Julius Axelrod, who was awarded a Nobel prize for his work on the release of neurotransmitters — helped to revolutionize human pharmacology and neuroscience. “Their approach was: Don't feel you have to have all your i's dotted and t's crossed. Just go and do it,” says Robert Kanigel, a writer who chronicled the dynasty in his book Apprentice to Genius (Macmillan, 1986).
But the Shannon lineage was radically different from Paine's. There was no premium on independence; instead, students served as apprentices to their masters. “In many of the key experiments, the younger person was doing the work of the mentor, and that sometimes led to resentments,” says Kanigel. Such relationships can breed envy and mistrust, he says. “People wonder if they'll get the credit they deserve.”
Paine proves that the opposite strategy works. “Treat your graduate students as human beings and be accessible to them. That sense of social equality is very important,” he says. “All my students were smarter than me but just less knowledgeable.” This attitude selected for self-propelled, passionate students who could find their own way. “It helped in getting the experience to implement your own research program,” says Wootton.
Now aged 79, Paine is still conducting research and inspiring students. He joined a crop of them last summer for a week in Patagonia. “He'd be in the intertidal on his hands and knees and asking questions,” says Kareiva, who was also on the trip. Paine also makes regular excursions to Tatoosh, where research is now run by Wootton and his wife, Cathy Pfister, who is also at the University of Chicago. Paine's mind is as sharp as ever, but having lost good binocular vision, his steps are less sure. “I hire my very athletic daughter to haul me around the rocks,” he says. “It's not sufficient, but I can continue to keep track of my long-term experiments.”