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Spring 1999

Gene Hunter
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Peltonen's engaging style and determination to get things done have earned her many admirers. Says McCabe: "She has an innate diplomatic ability. She's been able to work through very sensitive issues, bringing people together, very effectively. She gets the job done, but she doesn't tread all over people getting there."

And there is a strong foundation of humanity, too, in her thinking, says her husband, Aarno Palotie. "She understands astonishingly well how the human being functions as a person. She has the emotional depth that makes her not just a driving woman, a caricature of the movies, but well-rounded."

Peltonen's work ethic is clearly evident. Most of her days begin soon after dawn. She usually arrives in her office by 6 a.m., and immediately attacks her e-mail, which she uses to chat with colleagues across the globe. She still is coming to grips with the culture shock of being on a large campus like UCLA.

"I'm a very impatient person," she says. "Everything here can take so much time. It's such a huge culture. I came from a very small university, so everything moved very fast."

Peltonen brings to UCLA a wealth of intellectual resources earned from working in a country that, because of its isolated population and centralized health-care system with detailed records on every citizen, is one of the world's richest environments for studying human genetics. "She has enormous breadth, a tremendous range of talents and a vision of what needs to be done in genetics," says Neufeld.

As a geneticist, Peltonen could hardly have chosen a more conducive country in which to be born. Finland is located near the top of the world, a nation of 5 million people spread across a region roughly the size of France. No one knows exactly from where Finns came, but historians believe their ancestors arrived in small groups from Western Europe some 2,000 years ago and there's been little immigration since. There have been periods in the country's history during which more than half the population died of hunger, and poverty and isolation conspired to keep the population low. The effect of this extreme isolation was profound: Finns bred with each other over several centuries without knowing it, giving rise to an assortment of strange and terrible diseases not found anywhere else in the world.

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