Mary Jane Gething on CSHL Research
  Mary Jane Gething     Biography    
Recorded: 16 Jan 2003

Coming as an independent scientists to Cold Spring Harbor I had to raise my own research money because in London—mostly ICRF funded the research and it was through Mike Waterfield’s group, my supervisor. So I had to sit down for the first time in my life and write a grant.

It wasn’t difficult to write the science because the work had got to an area where it was just very obvious what the exciting new experiments to do were. But I do remember taking a draft into Joe, and he basically said you’ve got to start again. And going—and he gave me some pointers and I went back and redid it and so it was fine. But I’d also luckily had already published, oh, two or three Nature papers on the flu work and from—mostly from the work at ICRF. So I published a very small paper on the bacterial expression of flu-hemagglutin, but it wasn’t a useful vector because the protein was a galactoprotein and carbohydrate isn’t added in bacteria. So that was a Nature letter and then the cloning paper, the comparison of the strains had been published in Nature as well. And then the first mutagenesis experiments were published in Nature.

The funny thing was the transition. Mike Waterfield was a saint really through all of this because I was still in his lab in London. But really from the moment that the cloning work started I was working with Joe and I sort of occasionally tell Mike what was going but I was in his lab and so on. There was this—sort of from a postdoc’s point of view awkward transition and I think it happens with every postdoc when they grow up and start working on their own. I think it was the second—the cloning paper Mike was on. But the expression paper he really had had zero to do with that. But I had been working in his lab with his funding and so on, so I wrote the paper with Joe. And took a deep breath and put the final draft on Mike’s desk without his name on as author. Sort of tip-toed out and then tip toed around for the next day waiting or the response and there was no response. I mean Mike just sort of, you know, maybe he was slightly frosty, but anyway it was no thing, so we went on a published it without his name. And I remembered that five years later I suppose it was when a terrific postdoc in my lab in—in our lab—in Cold Spring Harbor did the same thing to me: a guy called Mike Roth who actually came down to Dallas with us and now is a full professor. Stayed in Dallas. And there was some work that, I introduced him to a collaborator and then he’d gone on and done this work. And it was exactly the same scenario. One day I find this manuscript on my desk. And without my name on it. And I’m sure I had an identical response to Mike Waterfield. Sort of “uhh” But then decided that, you know, it’s a gift really. You have to make this gift of independence to the people who go on. Assuming that they’ve earned it, which was true in Mike’s case, Mike Roth’s case. And so I just gritted my teeth and smiled—a fixed smile when I next saw him and it went on like that.

And we had a drunken conversation some years later. And I remember saying to Mike, “This is something you must pass on, you know. It’s come down the line from your scientific grandfather. A time will come when somebody in your lab will need that independence. And you must grit your teeth and hand it on, so—it was funny and I hope this continues on down the generations.

Mary-Jane Gething, biochemist is Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne where she earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1974. Subsequently she went to Cambridge to do post-doctoral work.

In 1976, she moved to London to work on protein sequencing and in 1980, Gething and Joseph Sambrook received a NATO grant for travel to collaborate on virus research. She began working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1982 where she continued her research of proteins. In 1985, Gething and Sambrook moved to Dallas to work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. They moved back to Australia in 1994.

Her current research involves protein folding in the cell and the role of molecular chaperone BiP.