Edward Lewis on Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  Edward Lewis     Biography    
Recorded: 04 Jun 2001

It was very nice for me, as a graduate student going there. One summer I worked with [B.P. Kaufman] because he had these slides of chromosomes of the salivary glands. The flies had been X-rayed and studied for how many breaks are produced given a dose of X-rays. It’s ideal matter for the study of X-ray damage and it’s a way at the same time to recognize the bands of the chromosomes are highly diagnostic or the patterns diagnostic. And it’s not easy to do that without a long training. It’s not so much training; it’s just spend[ing] a few hours a day studying the slides, which were very good. They had technicians that made beautiful slides. I remember one chromosome had one nucleus, it had some thirty break points. Chromosomes had been broken at thirty places, [and it] was very difficult [to know] what all the rearrangements were. [Dr. Kaufman] was very proud of this one case. These were animals that would have never lived to be a fly probably. They were in the larval stage and if they have too much wrong with them they will die before they become adults. So it was a very interesting method. They pioneered that – Kaufman and [Milislav] Demerec – at Cold Spring Harbor. They had a collaborator, Hans Bower, who might have been at Cold Spring Harbor, who should [be included] in your history because they have a paper the three of them—Bower, Demerec and Kaufman. It was relaxed and nobody was hurrying and we had lunch together at one of those halls.

I remember Sewall Wright would be there for example. He was there with his wife and two boys. He would eat lunch – I would swear it – in less than five minutes and it went in with incredible speed and that was it. Anyway he lived in another world, a brilliant man who, by the way, would be up early swimming all the way across the bay and back if the tides were right. When he was about 90, I asked him what kind of stroke he used and he said, “I used a modified dog paddle” to swim.

He lived to be 98, I think. He was there over the summers and he gave good lectures that nobody could understand.

He would write mathematical formulas on the board and stand in front of it. But I don’t think there was anyone there who understood what he said. [It was] so advanced, and that was a group that contained people that wouldn’t normally know that field. No one ever asked a question, and we always hoped he would stop. After an hour and a half he would talk. He had no idea of time, but it was incredible. Then Barbara McClintock was there. I guess she was there most of the time.

Edward B. Lewis (1918-2004) was a renowned leader in genetics and Drosophila development research. He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1942. He served as captain of the United States Army Air Force from 1942-1945 as a meteorologist and an oceanographer in the Pacific Theatre. In 1946, he joined the Caltech faculty and was appointed Professor of Biology in 1956, earning a Thomas Hunt Morgan Professorship in 1966. In 1995, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development” along with Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus. Lewis is also a recipient of the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal (1983), the Gairdner Foundation International award (1987), the Wolf Foundation prize in medicine (1989), the Rosenstiel award (1990) and the National Medal of Science (1990).