Recorded: 08 Aug 2001
Some people want to keep their initial results to themselves so that they can do all the thinking. I’m a different type and I like to talk about the phenomena that occurred before there are actually results. That’s a distinct difference. And so we had weekly group meetings and in one group meeting. There were a number of cases where Jeff would ask questions that I hadn’t formulated yet. If I said, “This happens,” he would take it the next step and say, “What happens after that?” And so [I said], “Well, I’ll go find out.” And in one case which was very important to our eventual work, I had been dissecting individual cells and using a little test that I devised to get factor hormone to diffuse into the ager so that you could tell individual cells one from another. I’d shown that when yeast spores were at the four-cell stage—homothallic spores were at the four-cell stage—two of the cells became a and two of the cells remained because two of the cells were respond to factor. He said, “Which two?” And I hadn’t kept track of them to the four-cell stage. When he asked which two, I immediately went back and that afternoon did the experiment and found out that in the two or three that I did, when I can keep track of the cells it was the mother cell that changed and not the daughter. That was worth having a beer over within a day and then I did many, many more and showed that it was a hundred percent that way. And then we started carrying the whole thing out further and further. But it was a matter of asking the question and then doing the experiment all at the same time. So he provided a lot of motivation and from my part I provided a lot of energy. What I found in a lot of cases since then [is that] people will find reasons for not doing the experiments that other people suggest because it bruises their ego. What we developed was a relationship where if one or the other asked the question it was by definition sufficient research to do the experiment to find out the answer, and that was the basis for the rest of [the] many years it was that we collaborated.
James Hicks is a pioneer in the field of yeast genetics. He earned his Ph.D. degree in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Oregon, working with Ira Herskowitz.
Hicks researched with Jeff Strathern and Amar Klar 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.
Hicks is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of ViroGenomics, a Portland biotech company that is searching for new treatments for chronic and acute viral disease.