Recorded: 22 Mar 2003
So, my first experience at Cold Spring Harbor was in 1970. I was a graduate student at Vanderbilt and I went to a phage meeting there. And at this phage meeting I met a number of people including Al Hershey. And it was just, you know, a very brief conversation and introduction. My advisor was there, Leonard Lerman and he knew Al Hershey. So I met him and I didn’t have any particular impression.
But then three years later when I was a postdoc in Mark Ptashne’s lab, we wrote a paper on the lambda operator and asked Al Hershey to submit it, to communicate it to the Proceedings of the National Academy [of Sciences]. And so Mark and I went down and we had sent him a manuscript. And it was so funny because Mark and I had spent weeks writing this thing. I mean we pounded it out and there were draft after draft. If anybody knows how Mark Ptashne writes, that’s the way he writes. Every, you know, every word is perfect. So we came down and walked into Hershey’s office and he had our manuscript in front of him that he was editing to submit. And I looked down on the desk and it was totally “red” There was no white piece. Every single sentence was commented on. And so we sat down, went through this thing and it was brilliant. I mean, he, you know, he was an amazing writer and a clear thinker. He pointed out in each sentence: “Now what do you mean by this sentence?” And we’d read it and we thought we knew what we meant and after reading, well, he was right, you know. So it was an amazing experience.
And apparently he was known for this and I didn’t really know that at all. And so it was a great experience for me to actually see someone who writes so clearly and had actually it had a big effect on my writing after that. I looked at writing in a very different way. I saw, you know, I guess I’d been to his house a few times. I had tea with he and his wife once or twice when I was at the lab. He was an absolutely wonderful warm delightful person. I mean he became a bit of a recluse at the end, but he was an amazing man.
I would say he was a very quiet inward person. He, at least in my brief interactions with him, wasn’t the kind of person who would come out and tell you much about himself. He liked to interact in science and discuss science and writing and so on. But I believe he protected his inner self very much, and that he in general around the lab I don’t think he was very interactive.
Tom Maniatis, molecular biologist, is a leader in the field of recombinant DNA. At Vanderbilt University he completed his Ph.D. studying DNA wide-angle scattering. He became a postdoctoral fellow and professor at Harvard University and met Jim Watson just before he became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
While Maniatis was beginning experimentation with cDNA cloning and gene regulation of higher cells, the controversy over recombinant DNA in Cambridge stunted his progression. Watson offered Maniatis a position at CSHL where he could work more efficiently to understand the methods of recombinant DNA. At CSHL, Maniatis completed full-length synthesis of double stranded DNA and actual cloning of cDNA.
He is currently a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University studying the mechanisms involved in the regulation of RNA transciption and pre-messenger RNA splicing. He studies transcription to understand how eukaryotic genes are activated by viral infection and extracellular signals.