But first: I need your help.

Do you have kids?

Were you ever a kid yourself?

What should parents teach their kids about money – and how should they go about it? How have you gone about it? How did your parents try / succeed/ fail in teaching you?

I’m doing a piece on this, and would love to have your ideas and anecdotes.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

Dana Dlott: “Are you familiar with Kenneth Hooker’s column in the Boston Globe? We write to him and describes our retirement portfolios. He analyzes them and gives advice. From my point of view (chemical physicist, not certified financial planner), he does a very deep and excellent analysis.

“Hooker often recommends Vanguard Health Care fund for the more aggressive part of your hold-and-forget mutual fund portfolio. It is one of the very few funds that has outperformed the S&P 500 index for a very long time, presumably because it is well managed and health care grows somewhat faster than the economy as a whole.

“These days, I have been serving on a committee to help evaluate new faculty hires for our emerging post-genomics initiative (PGI). PGI is the wave of the future. I had to ask what ‘post-genomics’ means. Now that we have sequenced the human genome, we are moving into the post genomics era. The gene sequence is valuable but very limited. It is just a data stream that tells you the code of the gene and ultimately the sequence of the amino acids in every protein. People think the human genome project was the end of something but in reality it is only a tiny start to the problem. Now we have to figure out how this code gets translated into chemical structures, cells, organelles, etc.

“Anyway I have been attending a lot of research presentations in this area given by the smartest young people. I am not an expert in this area but I am a pretty sharp scientist. I must say I am overwhelmed at what I am seeing:

  • A young man who is sculpturing molecules to become artificial viruses that can attack particular cancer cells.
  • A young woman who has convinced cells to grow with special carbohydrates in their cell walls that have (wo)man-made tags on them that can be used to tag or modify the surfaces of cells in a controlled manner.
  • A young man who has developed a tiny nanoprobe 1/1000the size of a cell, who can drive it through a cell like a remote-controlled car. Wherever the nanoprobe goes, it sends back a signal of what molecules it is seeing.
  • A young woman who is building artificial synthetic cells piece by piece.
  • A young man who has developed a new mass spectrometer that can weigh individual proteins with incredible accuracy, and which is fast enough to weigh every single protein in the human genome within a few years. This point needs some explanation. Now that we know the genome, I can tell you what amino acids make up any given protein. If the protein is made up only of those amino acids, then I know its weight in advance. But many proteins have post genomic modifications to their structure. By weighing every protein, we can concentrate on those that have new special structures not given by simply knowing the genetic sequence.

“Listening to this, I have decided that all the hype you ever have heard about biotechnology, including all the most fantastic things you have ever heard in science fiction movies,are only understating what is truly happening around us. Computer, electronics and the Internet are very nice, but these days they have become a commodity like coal, steel and gravel. That is not bad … there is a lot of money to be made owning a gravel pit or owning Dell or Cisco Systems. But if one wants to invest in the next incredible thing, only biotechnology will do.

“I have absolutely no hope of picking the best biotech companies or deciding which development is going to be great. So instead I have been socking away some of my mad money into Fidelity Select Biotech. It seems to be one of the better funds of this type, and I think 20 years from now when I retire I will be very happy about this.”

☞ I love it when one of my brilliant and accomplished readers unwittingly writes a column for me. Dana Dlott is Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Physics at the University of Illinois. Thank you, Dana. (And thank you, gentle reader, for your ideas and anecdotes, on what / how to teach kids about money.)


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