Recorded: 04 Jun 2001
It was truly shocking. I came here, in a sense I recognize now that I was very—I came from a very middle class background. My Ph.D. supervisor, sort of, his father was the Lord? (Dr. Lane, please confirm or clarify), so that was the atmosphere, very British, very kind of middle class, very ordinary, my family wasn’t from science at all. I was the first person in my family ever to go into university and into science, so that’s what I knew. I came here and I was just amazed, there were people from all over the world. There was this incredibly intense atmosphere. You lived on the campus. You walked across the grass [and] you were in the lab. It was just wild! James Lab, where I was, was the wildest of the wild. That was the atmosphere, it was completely, we were the best, we were the hardest, we were the toughest here, the rest were just not there. That was the atmosphere that Joe and Mike loved, [Bob] Tjian, and all those people. A huge amount was happening; it was a very exciting time. It was crazy.
I remember the first day I came, we arrived at night, we got a taxi, we’d been typically naïve and just got into a taxi at JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport], and the guy got lost and eventually we arrived here, and with two big suitcases. We stayed actually in the farmhouse because Rich Roberts was on sabbatical leave so we got his apartment. Then we woke up the next morning, looked out over the Sound [Long Island Sound], I lived in London all my whole life, I couldn’t believe it! I walked in the lab and in the main postdoc [area] there used to be a shared office for all the post docs in James. There was a bucket of water and the post docs were lining up to stick their head in the bucket of water and time how long they could keep their head under the water, right? It was just a competition to see how tough they were. I just couldn’t, I’d never seen anything like this in my life, I was in shock!
So there was just a tremendous atmosphere of fun, and people. It was exciting, just exciting. It went on like that the whole time; you’d see people really arguing a lot in the corridor and [in] very intense, intellectual debate. And then the science—you were doing very exciting things and very hands on. So you’d go in there, there was a big development tank next to the coffeepot. You walked through the library to this development tank. You’d be walking there and somebody’d be reading a journal and you’d be with this dripping autorad?? [autoradiograph] with your latest result, you’d walk past them and people would talk. It was a very great atmosphere. Wonderful people and just great fun. I remember going to a party with Walter Schaffner, who had just found enhancers, nobody believed this, this was a crazy result. He put this piece of DNA anywhere and it seemed to make transcription stronger and it didn’t matter whether it was one way around or the other. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before. It was crazy. He was crazy. He came to this party dressed as Dracula. He drank a plate of HeLa cells as his blood, human sacrifice. It was enormous fun. Strange working hours, we used to come into work at about ten in the morning, have coffee and donuts and then talk, and then lunch and then we’d start work. But we’d work until maybe two or three at night, and then we’d go to Huntington to the bar, and then come back, go to bed [and] start again. The technicians used to come in. It actually worked, it was almost continuous science because the technical people would come in earlier in the day and they’d set up some cell cultures or something, science was going on twenty-four hours. I mean people were in the lab, you could go into the lab at any time and there would be somebody there working. If you went to have dinner with somebody else on the campus, people would get up between the main course and the dessert to go turn on or off their gel or do something, they’d come back again. So that was great fun.
David Lane, immunologist, is the Director of the Cancer Research UK Transformation Research Group at the University of Dundee, Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology at the Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee, Scotland. Lane founded the Department of Surgery and Oncology in the University’s Medical School with Alfred Cucheiri, one of the pioneers in minimal access ("keyhole") surgery. Currently on leave from the University of Dundee, he the Executive Director of the IMCB in Singapore. Lane is also the founder and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of Cyclacel, a Dundee based biotechnology company now listed on the NASDAQ. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D., he was recruited by Joe Sambrook to work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with the Tumor Virus Group in the 70’s, where he also completed one of his books on antibodies. In 2000, Lane was knighted by Queen Elizabeth of England for his many contributions to science. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the University College London.