Recorded: 17 Apr 2000
I wasn’t at the beginning of the course. The course was started by Dan Marshak and John Smith and Jim Kadonaga and Bruce Erikson. I think they taught it for several years down in the old Jones lab. Several of the people—Erikson and Smith—had to leave the course, so they were looking for some new people and they called me up and asked if I’d be willing to teach a course. I have a very high regard for the teaching function of Cold Spring Harbor, I was really honored to be asked. This is my tenth year since I started in 1992, It had only gone on for two years before that. It’s changed slowly, I mean, the year I came, Guido Guidotti also came from Harvard, he developed a lab on membrane protein purification: Isolating the insulin receptor from rat liver membranes. Dan Marshak’s module was on isolating bucket biochemistry, isolating calmodular (?) chicken gizzards. And Jim Kadanoga’s was on DNA affinity chromatography: Isolating transcription factor AP1 from heli-cell nuclei. And I developed a module on overproducing recombinant proteins that go into inclusion bodies, and how to soluble-ize those and refold them. I also had to do amino affinity purification. Those four modules have been used now and Guido Guidotti used it for the first year and then one of his students Bill Brennen did it for a year, and since then Su-Hwa Lin, who is an MD ____(aderson?) has been teaching that module. Jim Kadonaga got tired of teaching the course and passed the baton onto Al Courey who has been teaching now for five years or so. Then, when Dan Marshak became an executive in his biotech company in Baltimore called Osiris, he asked Sheenah Mische from Rockefeller University to fill in. So we’ve been pretty stable the last five years.
I look forward to this course every year, when I was director of the biotech center in Madison from ’84 to ’96, I was very busy. I had two full time jobs and the only time of the year I could get away from the work was to come and spend two weeks here away from the telephone…
I’d stay at Dolan and teach a lab course, after all it’s about a 15-hour a day lab course. A lab course started at 8:30 in the morning and we’d go to 10:30 at night, for six days and then we would take a day off so the students don’t burn out completely. Then we would have another six days on, so it’s quite a grueling course but everyone that takes it says it’s the most intense way and most efficient way to learn the material.
Some of the students that took the course early on, I can’t remember any more in much detail. I know that we’ve had a number of experienced scientists, the typical 16-students consists of four to eight faculty members, and maybe eight post docs and maybe four graduate students; so they’re all experienced scientists but they all have been doing their science in other areas, biology, genetics, or biophysics, and now they have a protein they want to find and they can’t get a feeling for it. So our goal is to try to teach them to think like a protein. I think of this as a sort-of protein camp. Martie Chalfie took the course, who was the first person to fuse green fluorescent protein to other proteins and study the localization in C. elegans. A number of different people were taking the course that I have heard of before, we had one student come a day late because of a blizzard in North Dakota. Then when she got here, there were floods in North Dakota and her house was slowly becoming closer and closer to being flooded and she was able to watch it on the Internet. In any given year, there may be only six or eight of the students [who] were born in the United States. Most of the people are from all over Europe, South America, China…out of sixteen. It was an international group. Last night there was a ping-pong game with a Mexican and a German against an Italian and a French…
Well, of course, we have speakers at the course and it’s always nice to have those people come in. And, of course, I’ve interacted with the scientists here that I know. Sometimes we would have to borrow some pieces of equipment from somebody. I met a lot of scientists here during the course, but during the course we’re pretty busy, there really isn’t much time to socialize.
Richard Burgess is a geneticist who has been an important figure in cancer, microbial, and molecular research. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University under Jim Watson in 1969 and went on to work with Alfred Tissieres at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
He is currently researching RNA polymerases, monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), molecular genetics, computer-based sequence and structure analysis, and biochemistry at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Reaearch at the University of Wisconsin.