Jeffrey Miller on John Cairns (Director of CSHL)
  Jeffrey Miller     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Mar 2006

Well the first time I went to Cold Spring Harbor in the summer of ’68, John Cairns was still the director. And he and his wife Elfie, had a kind of hospitality that’s just unique. They would, on the lawn of Airslie House, they would have, you know, for every course, there’d be several barbeques; their house was like open to everybody. And as a person who values his privacy, it’s just something, I would never be able to do that. They were wonderful. You know their children were fabulous. Of course they grew up at Cold Spring Harbor, and when I first went there I even dated his daughter Vicky, very briefly. But I’ve kept touch with them all these years. They went to England, and now Oxford, and I’ve seen particularly his younger son, Zoo(?), and his wife in London a number of times. And they, they’re really very unique people. I think that Cold Spring Harbor had a very special atmosphere under John Cairns. And he had a great influence on me. And also he’s really a terrific scientist he’s done enormous things through many fields. And he’s…

He’s a fabulous scientist, I mean even before I went to graduate school in 1963 there’s a famous autoradiograph (??) that he published that first physically demonstrated the circularity of the e. Coli chromosome that’s considered one of the classic experiments. And then John’s strength as a scientist is in being a bit iconoclastic. In other words, he will challenge the prevailing dogma and so it was his faith that there were other polymerases in e. Coli that led to an exhaustive and then successful search for a mutant in what was then the Kornberg polymerase. And that just started a whole field of DNA synthesis.

And then he has devoted much of the remainder of his career to understanding mechanisms of cancer. He’s made major contributions. He wrote several really successful books on the epidemiology of cancer and about mortality. And he’s also done work in understanding the theory of mutagenesis which is in the area that I work in. He’s just a brilliant scientist and I have an enormous respect for him. He’s also a renaissance man, in other words, he’s not just a scientist, he and his wife, they’re interested in all the arts and in music. He comes from a background of tremendous interest in the arts. And I’ve just learned an enormous amount from my association with them. But their hospitality extends no matter where they are. I’ve stayed in their house in Mill Hill in London, in Oxford. They just have enormous qualities that I think are fabulous. He’s a terrific person.

Jeffrey H. Miller, Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. After receiving his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Rochester, he did graduate work in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard in the department that included Jim Watson and Walter Gilbert, doing his thesis work under Jonathan Beckwith at Harvard Medical School. His postdoctoral work was pursued under Benno Müller-Hill at the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne in Germany, followed by 11 years on the faculty at the University of Geneva's Department of Molecular Biology, which was then headed by Alfred Tissières. In 1983 he joined the faculty at UCLA, where his scientific focus has been large-scale DNA sequencing and genomic analysis, the enzymology of DNA repair, protein structure, and the role of DNA repair enzymes in human cancer. He received the 2007 Career Award for Research from the Environmental Mutagen Society.

Miller has been a frequent participant at Cold Spring Harbor Symposia, a course lecturer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and a co-organizer of two meetings at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Banbury Center. He has been a consultant and principal in various biotechnology companies since the 1980s. In 1994 he co-founded Diversa Corporation, which has merged to become Verenium, a publicly owned biofuel company. He is the author of several books and laboratory manuals published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, including "Experiments in Molecular Genetics" (1972), "A Short Course in Bacterial Genetics" (1992), and "Discovering Molecular Genetics" (1996).