Recorded: 15 Jan 2003
The Cold Spring Harbor Symposia that I went to in the mid-seventies were and the ones that I enjoyed and contributed to were those that concerned tumor viruses. The symposia that I was particularly excited and in those days Cold Spring Harbor had just been awarded a very big grant to study tumor viruses led by Joe Sambrook. And this was when a lot of people thought that the key to understanding the nature of transformation of normal cells into their cancerous counterparts was going to be illuminated by studies from viruses that clearly had the capacity to induce tumors in animals and oncogenically transform cells in culture.
And the symposia at that time focused on the identification of genes encoded within viral chromosomes that were the underlying principles of oncogenic transformation and tumorigenicity. And there were talk after talk after talk at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on these viral genes, what they did, where they lived in cells, which molecules they interacted with.
I remember one of the molecules that was of great interest at the time was the T-antigen encoded by Simian Virus 40, SV40. And a frequent visitor to Cold Spring Harbor at that time was David Lane. And David Lane was doing immuno-precipitations with an anti-serum that had been raised against SV40. And a lot of people at that time were running immuno-precipations and everyone that did them prided themselves on the cleanliness of their gels so the dream scenario was you would have an antibody directed against one protein and you could pull that protein down in extracts of cells. And David Lane was, we thought, one of the worst people at doing this because whenever he tried to pull down SV40 T-antigen he pulled down a minor band of molecular weight 53 kilodaltons. And we used to tease him about this.
It turns out, of course, that that was probably one of the most important discoveries to come from the study of oncogenes because this was the p53 oncogene that we know is bound to SV40 T-antigen. And David, I have to say in hindsight, only went to some extent to try and clean up those IPs. He had a feeling that the p53 protein was there because it was doing—it was of some importance. It was not just a contaminant.
But those were the days when you would present the data that you were getting at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium. It was the flagship way of putting out your discoveries. And I think that my recollection is that people in those days would do this even without having their data published in a primary journal. And the papers were a very, very high quality even though they weren’t refereed. And these volumes of the proceedings were regarded as being worth their weight in gold. We all had them. And they were the bibles at the time.
Ashley Dunn is currently a Senior Consulting Scientist and member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Cryptome Pharmaceuticals Ltd., an Australian biotech company. He also serves on Australia’s Gene Technology Advisory Committee. He is the former Head of Molecular Biology in the Melbourne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.
He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1976 to work with Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow and eventually became a junior faculty member.
His research has been concentrated on mammalian growth factors and the regulators responsible for the production of white blood cells in mice and men. He co-invented a mammalian blood cell regulator (GM-CSF), and his lab was the one of the first to establish gene targeting in the development of human diseases such as cancer.