Recorded: 01 May 2000
Amar: Lots of memories! Some of the memories are put in a chapter we wrote for Barbara McClintock’s 90th birthday book. She was memorable from day one. Was just amazing! We all ran into her and she was the smartest person you met. I had an appointment with her moving from cerevisiae [Saccharomyces cerevisiae] in my program to fission yeast where I hired her and asked David Beach if he wanted to join the lab and start to work on mating type.
So from there, it looked like, to me, that the mating type switching pair is quite different from cerevisiae but the mechanisms therefore should be different too. It looked like it was DNA strands involved where the Watson strand goes and the Crick strand goes in the other cell. That’s the reason. And Barbara McClintock was the only person who saw it right away. Not only that, but she asked the best questions. If she felt she was not right, she would fool around with the rearrangements then you can get the answer. I said, “Exactly! That is what I am doing.” I drew it for her. And she said, “You will see that it will work. It will be good for the Lab, good for science, good for you.” So that was really good. When experiments worked she said the same thing. She said, “I told you. It would work.”
And the same thing I did with Jim Watson. He’s not the kind of guy who you sit down [with] and discuss longwinded ideas. He’s a one-line [talker] and can finish the line for you that quick. But in that case I figured I could use his help, because this was about DNA strands and he had been thinking about that way back. At least it will bring him back to his memory. So I told him it looked like the DNA strands are the reason for [which] systems are different from each other. So all he said was—quickly, “If that works then you will be in.” I never knew what it meant—to be in. Then he was always on our case all the time. One time he wanted to know: “How did the experiments go? Could you do it before the Symposium?” Once he likes something, then he’s on your case. I couldn’t get it by the symposium but I got it.
Bruce Stillman was my roommate and we lived in the same building. I remember when he first met Grace in France. Grace had been very good friends with my wife because we were neighbors at Cold Spring Harbor- Huntington. We lived very close to where Jim Hicks lived. It was a very nice cubbyhole for a lot of scientists to hang out there.
Rather than immediate colleagues, there were lots of other post docs who went to it. David Beach had very good, quick hands. The guy only does [experiments] which were going to work. He was very quick to do it and then promote it. So that’s one of the successful stories, just about David Beach. He’s very clever and gets it done.
One of the other things I’ve benefited greatly from the yeast courses. There were two teachers: Gerry Fink and Fred Sherman. They were just nonstop, energetic, and Jim Hicks and so forth. Second, they brought a lot of speakers who were on the cutting edge of science and you got to interact with those people and engrail them. Because they were geneticists in the first place so they were easier for us to talk to. We didn’t get any resistance from those people and that was helpful morale-wise—that you gotta continue doing it—but there was not ever a reason to stop or look otherwise. So a big interesting story, and from that we discovered lots of principles about general biology… We’re adding more principles to the same story. It was wonderful for all of us.
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.