Ulf Pettersson on Early Work with Restriction Enzymes
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

Yes. I think that one of the major things that was done when I was here was the use of restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. So then there was one of the first things—the first paper that I produced as the result of work here was the cleavage of adenovirus DNA with the EcoRI restriction enzyme and then to producing a map, because that opened an entirely new field. I mean to understand how the chromosome was organized and how transcription took place.

And I would say, it was a rather unplanned experiment. I mean it’s nothing that we discussed when I came. And the way that I think things happened was that the first time I heard about restriction enzymes was in the symposium—no, sorry, not in the symposium, in a tumor virus workshop in 1971. Dan Nathans, who later became the Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of restriction enzymes, gave a talk. Not a scheduled talk, it was like an extra presentation, very short, about SV40 DNA could be cut with a restriction enzyme into small fragments of defined size. And EcoRI, another restriction enzyme was available in James and we just decided why not try it? It turned out that it cut Adenovirus chromosome into a small number of fragments that there could be used for a lot of experiments. So, that was an exciting time. I did that together with Phil Sharp and with Carel Mulder that work.

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.