Ulf Pettersson on Scientific Atmosphere of the James Lab
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

It was a very unusual way of scientific leadership. When I came one of the first days after having had a conversation with Joe Sambrook. And we discussed a little bit what I was supposed to do. And we both, I think, agreed that it would be interesting to work on transcription. So I did. That was essentially the only thorough guidance I got while I was here. The rest just happened, I mean, from informal discussions. I mean I started to do what Joe and I had been discussing and then just the encounters with the other people in the lab led to other projects. I’m just surprised that everything worked out so well because these days I think most scientific leadership is having a very tight control of the lab, telling the scientists, I mean, do this and that. And basically the young people have to have permission to do experiments.

In James in those days we were allowed essentially to do anything that you wanted provided that it was a good experiment. The interactions were very informal, very few group seminars and things like that took place. Things just happened.

Ulf Pettersson, geneticist and virologist, is the vice-president of the University of Upssala in Sweden, a professor of medical genetics, and a leader of a group on genetic disease in the Department of Genetics and Pathology. His scientific research is focused on finding genes linked with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

After finishing his medical degree in Sweden and his thesis on adenovirus proteins, he came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked as a postdoc alongside Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. He researched transcription and the methods by which to grow and extract adenovirus DNA and studied how to use restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. His work led to the understanding of how the chromosome is organized and how transcription takes place. In the 80’s he slowly altered his concentration from virology to genetics.

After leaving Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1973 he became a professor of microbiology at the University of Uppsala and then chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics. He was a member of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) (1992-1998), and is currently a member of both the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences.