Recorded: 15 Jun 2002
…I mean I’ve been coming to Cold Spring Harbor—so even though I grew up in this area, you know, I really didn’t know the lab existed. When I went to the National Cancer Institute I was working in retrovirology in the early 1970s. I had gotten my M.D./Ph.D. degree from New York. I went down to the cancer institute and at that time, I went into a laboratory and I was studying retrovirology. And in 1974, I think, the symposium was RNA and DNA tumor viruses [Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Tumor Viruses]. I think it was 1974…
Yes, so that was my first meeting at Cold Spring Harbor.
…So I came here and I didn’t—I had just started as a postdoc in 1973, and I had read this book that originally was edited by John Tooze, RNA Tumor Viruses. So I read the book cover to cover and I learned, you know, the various people who were in the field. There was a big group from the West Coast which was [J. Michael] Bishop and [Harold] Varmus, young men. Peter Vogt—
Peter Vogt—Peter Duesberg, Peter Vogt and other people. Then they had the DNA tumor virus people here, and I remember Charles Weissman was here. He was a former teacher of mine at New York University. I took biochemistry with him.
So I knew some people. Not very well. And I came just to listen. I don’t remember if I was an author of a paper from our lab or not. I frankly don’t remember. It’s possible that I was an author on a paper in that symposium book, but I don’t—it’s so long ago.
…So that was from George Todaro’s lab where I was a postdoc. And then—at that time they didn’t even know what the genome structure was of RNA tumor viruses. They didn’t know whether the genome was haploid or diploid or tetraploid. They had no idea. In fact experiments that established that it was a diploid RNA were just done that year by Weissman and Duesberg independently. They fought about it at the meeting. And it was a very amusing fight that went on about what they had done.
Yes, so I remember vividly what happened. I remember that one night Charlie Weissman got up and he presented oligonucleotide-fingerprinting data that showed that the genome of RNA tumor viruses was diploid. That there were two copies of RNA per virion.
Charles Sherr earned his joint M.D./Ph.D. degree from New York University in 1973. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator based at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. His work focuses on retroviral oncogenes, growth factors and their receptors, and cell cycle control. In 1991, Sherr's laboratory discovered the mammalian D-type G1 cyclins and went on to identify the cyclin-dependent kinases with which they associate, as well as a series of polypeptide inhibitors that negatively regulate their activities.
Sherr is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has won numerous awards and is the author of more than 235 scientific articles. He joined the National Cancer Institute in 1973, becoming a member of the NIH staff in 1975 and head of the viral pathology section, Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, in 1977. In 1983, he relocated to St. Jude. Sherr is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.