Sydney Brenner on John Cairns, Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  Sydney Brenner     Biography    
Recorded: 10 Jun 2002

Well, you know, I think he [John Cairns] kept it very much going. He was trapped by his board, you see. What happened is that—

There were two laboratories there originally. There was the Long Island Biological Laboratories and there was the Carnegie Institution, right. And Demerec happened to be director of both because—there used to be separate directors. Then there was a question when Demerec retired the Carnegie people had wanted to—would decide whether they would put a director. So, in fact, I know that because they did look for a director—it was offered to me at one point, I turned it down. I think Norton Zinder also got offered the job.

But then when the Carnegie pulled out of Cold Spring Harbor, it had to be reconstituted. And so there were a series of directors and of course there were two and they formed a new organization of which the trustees, if that’s their name—the board came from nominees of different universities; MIT, Columbia and so on. And I think that that plus the fact it was still the Long Island Biological Association made life very difficult for John. And I think, you know, trying to keep all these groups with their agendas separate, I think was difficult. Only, I think, much later when the whole thing had been reorganized into one organization that it took off.

Sydney Brenner is a pioneer in the field of molecular biology. He was born in South Africa in 1927 and received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1954. From 1979 to 1986 he served as Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology and from 1986 to 1991, as the Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory Molecular Genetics Unit, both in Cambridge, England.

Since 1996 he has been the President and Director of Science at the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley. Brenner was honored as a Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2000.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Dr. John Sulston and Dr. Robert Horvitz “for their discoveries concerning ‘genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death’” studying the organism C. elegans.