Recorded: 01 May 2000
Jeff: …Ira Herskowitz came to the University of Oregon and his background was lambda genetics. I was already at the University of Oregon. I was what you would call a “used” graduate student. I had come to work with a man who left. And then I worked for a while with a guy named John Menninger. Then I worked as a kibitzer in the Frank Stahl lab; that is, Aaron Novick gave me lab space. I did lambda experiments, but I wasn’t actually in Frank’s lab but Frank Stahl was the lambda geneticist.
Then they hired Ira Herskowitz, and Ira took me on as a graduate student again to work on lambda. I had worked on a project that involved regulation of the C1 gene by the crow gene in lambda. It was a hot topic at the time. But at that same time he hired Jim Hicks, another “used” graduate student. And Jim set up Ira’s yeast laboratory and started working on mating type switching and mating type regulation. Jim is a spectacular and interesting person in many ways, as I have said elsewhere and will repeat again. He has the lowest activation barrier for starting an experiment of anyone I’ve ever met. If some idea comes out of a discussion with him at two in the morning, the next time you see him that idea will have been put into practice. And he shared a lab bench with me.
I was working on lambda and he was trying to get yeast going. He was the only person doing yeast in Ira’s lab so he had daily conversations with me and out of those discussions some proposals for experiments came. And Jim, as I said, would immediately start those experiments. The next day he’d come in and he would have some observation to discuss and we’d talk about them and I’d make a suggestion and it would turn into an experiment right away, and pretty soon we had more suggestions than he could do experiments. And so my lambda work, which was just about finished as a thesis, got scooped. Someone else got the results that I- and published the results that were the same as what I had done. So I was pretty discouraged.
Amar: It’s hard to believe. A very careful guy like Ira Herskowitz.
Jeff: I had developed a way to get chrositive action mutations and they turned out to be the binding sites for C1 protein. That was published by the Oppenheims. Anyway, so I folded my notebooks, and it was just before Christmas. And I said, okay, I’m gonna do some yeast experiments—the kinds of experiments that I suggested to Jim—because he said there were more suggestions than could be done. I said, “All right, I’ll take a couple weeks and I’ll do some yeast experiments.” And at the end of those two weeks, between Christmas and New Years – I’d gotten results that were sufficient to make a paper.
Now, compared to how hard I had to work to get something in lambda, this was way too easy. It was a picnic! So I folded up my lambda notebooks and eventually gave them to Gary Gusen, and started working on yeast.
I went to a yeast meeting—the 1975 yeast meeting. I had a result, which had a significant impact on the field at the time. Like I said, it was too easy and much too much fun. And again, it gave me this opportunity to really work with Jim Hicks and, as I had said, the topic and the colleague were just something you wanted to do twenty-four hours a day and I couldn’t give it up.
So that’s both the introduction to how I moved from lambda genetics to yeast. And also an introduction to how much fun it was to work with Jim, and why we tried to put together a mechanism where we could get back to working together. That mechanism involved me going to Cold Spring Harbor to work with Ray Gesteland and with him coming from Gerry Fink’s laboratory at Cornell to Cold Spring Harbor. That was the nucleus of that idea and we just explained how we recognized immediately that we couldn’t do that without Amar. It was going to be just that much more fun.
Amar Klar and Jeff Strathern worked together in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 till 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.
Amar Klar, is a leading yeast geneticist, concerned with the molecular biology of gene silencing and mating-type switching. Klar came from India to the University of Wisconsin in 1975 to receive his Ph.D. in bacteriology. From 1977 to 1984, he worked with Jeff Strathern and Jim Hicks in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast Group studying the mechanism of mating type switching. Klar served as Director of the Delbruck laboratory from 1985 to 1988.
He left Cold Spring Harbor to join the ABL-Basic Research Program as Head of the Developmental Genetics Section. In 1999, Klar joined the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research and is now a Principal Investigator in the Gene Regulation and Chromosome Biology Laboratory at NCI-CCR.
Jeffrey Strathern, a leading yeast geneticist, obtained his Ph.D. from the Molecular Biology Institute at the University of Oregon in 1977 and then moved to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he became a Senior Staff Member with the yeast genetics laboratory.
In 1984, he joined the ABL-Basic Research Program at the NCI-FCRDC. His research remains centered on aspects of gene regulation and genetic recombination as revealed by studies in yeast. In 1999, Strathern joined the Division of Basic Sciences, NCI. Strathern worked together with Amar Klar and Jim Hicks in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 to 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.