Recorded: 04 Jun 2001
I had done some experiments which involved problems about cellular respiration and the person in this field was David Keilin and I read some of his papers and I thought they were extremely well written and that's why I went to Cambridge. But I wrote to Keilin and I went to a meeting, there was a meeting at Oxford at one of those huge affairs and I was in a small car, a small German car, with two of the people I knew in Lausanne.
On the way back from Oxford I decided that it would be good, perhaps, for me to try to see if Keilin could take me in his lab. I did that and I went into this Molteno Institute and— Keilin didn’t like to write letters neither do Keilin told me, “You can come, you can come!” And probably for two or three months I had written to him before, and he accepted me and took a camera and that's it. That's how I went to his place and in his place you had to find out on what you were working, Keilin was not a bossy person. I think I probably picked up a few things I had been working on bacterial preparations and Keilin told me why don't you go ahead and that's how I started working for him.
This was in Cambridge, England and there were some problems at that time in England and it was very difficult to get something to eat, which was somewhat decent. It was very cheap. For quite a few years and of course when I arrived there I didn't have any source of money, after a while he told me to just apply for something he suggested that I apply for the British Council's scholarship. I did this and received a stipend for two years. After that I was very lucky because I got a fellowship at Kings and so instead of living in one of those awful digs that you found in places like Cambridge, I was living in what I thought was spacious conditions next to the chapel and I thought you could be living in worse situations than that.
The Gibbs building in part which is just next to the Chapel so on Sundays I had very nice music and during the week. It was a five-year fellowship. That was very pleasant and after one or two years I got a fellowship to go to Caltech and I had had a friend who had been a professor in Geneva, Jean Vaguely—maybe you know his name. I was a friend of Jean Vaguely and he was an extraordinary person because he liked to make tricks with people and when he came to visit me in Cambridge he had in his briefcase, he had a form for applying for a fellowship at Caltech. He told me it was the best place in the world and I said, “Why do you say this? It's a stupid thing to say.” I was furious when he said this to me. He said, “Why don't you just fill out this thing?” I filled it out and got the fellowship from Caltech. In Kings, they gave me a leave of absence for one year and take my fellowship when I came back. Having a fellowship in Cambridge—you probably know this—you get very little money; I mean you live like a king.
Alfred Tissières was a biologist, biochemist and geneticist. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge for his work at the Molteno Institute and subsequently did postdoctoral work on respiratory enzymes at Caltech under Max Delbruck.
Soon after returning to Cambridge, Watson suggested he come to Harvard to work on microsomal particles in E. coli.
At Harvard, Tissières and Jim discovered that ribosomes were made of two unequal pieces, each containing protein and RNA. Tissieres began a professorship at the University of Geneva where his laboratory has become prominent in the field of ribosome research.
Alfred first attended a symposium at Cold Spring Harbor in 1961 and when Jim Watson became director, Tissières would regularly visit with his family during the summer.