Biochemistry faculty profile – Professor Alan Attie

Photo of Alan Attie

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I was born in New York City. When I was a baby, my family moved to Bogota, Colombia. After six years, we moved to Caracas, Venezuela where I stayed until I went to college at UW-Madison. Both of my parents were Sephardic Jews. Their parents emigrated from Syria during World War I when the Ottomans began to draft Jews into the military. My father’s parents went to NYC. My mother’s parents emigrated to Colombia.

Where did you carry out your postdoctoral research?

I really didn’t do a proper post-doc. I went to graduate school at UCSD and stayed on for two more years and then got my job at UW. That would be unthinkable today.

As a child, who was your biggest influence?

My father was my biggest influence. He never went to college. Nonetheless, he was incredibly well-read and we loved to read together. He was also an excellent amateur musician.

Why did you decide to study science?

I was not exposed to science at a high level in my high school in Venezuela. I was later inspired by Ann Burgess’ Cell Biology Lab course at UW, and then decided to become a scientist.

Why did you come to Madison? When?

A cousin recommended Madison to me when I was applying to college. I did not have the luxury of visiting schools and had never traveled in the U.S. anywhere west of the East Coast.

What do you like most about being a professor?

I love science. I still remember the joy I felt when I was first able to go to a library and read scientific journals, having just acquired the necessary vocabulary from my first biochemistry course. I love formulating and testing new ideas. I greatly enjoy the multiple communities that we inhabit; our labs, our departments, our campus, and wonderful colleagues throughout the world. I enjoy teaching, especially my current course in Metabolic Biochemistry. It is delightful to see lightbulbs go on and to inspire students in the same way I was inspired when I was a student.

What is the focus of your research?

My lab studies diabetes and lipid metabolism using genetics to discover new genes and new pathways.

What do you consider your major accomplishments?

I don’t like to take credit for the great things people in my lab have done. Some of the research highlights include discovering the role of the LDL receptor in lipoprotein secretion, identifying new genes for diabetes susceptibility, and sharing genetics and genomics data with our community in ways that have spawned new projects in other labs.

What advice would you provide to a new assistant professor who is just starting his/her career?

Don’t try to replicate your former mentor’s lab. Stay focused. Recruit people who love science, are kind, generous, team-players and have a strong work ethic.

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

Spending time with my wife, Cooking and dining with friends, Photography (, Wine-making, Tennis, Hiking, beach-combing, diving, Reading, Concerts, Museums, Travel.

What is your favorite place in Madison?


Favorite Quote:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – (Charles Darwin)

Friends Describe Me:

(You need to ask them)

Fantasy Dinner Guests:

Charles Darwin, Barak Obama, Primo Levi, Jacques Monod, Paul Robeson, Octavio Paz, Yo-Yo Ma (had dinner with him once, but would love to again)

Best Advice I Ever Received:

When I was thinking of proposing to my current wife, my best friend said: “Marry her or else I will”

My Undergrad Alma Mater


In College I Drove:

A bicycle

Favorite Books:

“Chance and Necessity” Jacques Monod
“The Periodic Table” Primo Levi
“The Voyage of the Beagle” Charles Darwin
“In Search of Better Suns” Isabel Wilkerson
“Undaunted Courage” Stephen Ambrose
“1984” George Orwell
“Catch-22” Joseph Heller
The poetry of Octavio Paz

Favorite City:

San Diego

Favorite Movies:

Babette’s Feast, Cinema Paradiso, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, Annie Hall, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, Amadeus, Schindler’s List, On the Waterfront, All Quiet on the Western Front, Fargo, Tomorrow

Favorite Coffee

Peets Major Dickason’s Blend

My Latest Accomplishment

Major NIH grant for a study of the genetics of diet responsiveness.

Nobody Knows I:

… cook a great risotto.