Sydney Brenner on John Cairns and Joe Sambrook, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  Sydney Brenner     Biography    
Recorded: 10 Jun 2002

Now, John Cairns I got to know only after he came to Cold Spring Harbor. He came—I didn’t know him in Oxford where he grew up, and he went to Australia. I finally got to know him after he had come and he had done all this work.

Of course, I got to know him much better when he returned to England. And in fact, was quite—worked a lot with him when he went to the Imperial College. But I did visit Cold Spring Harbor on several occasions while he was there, and did stay with him once.

John is a—John is a very interesting person in many ways. He can be quite cutting, you know, and of course, very much in my opinion, the squire, you know, the village squire. And I think many people found him quite lofty and arrogant, but I mean it was a kind of style. But John also had a rather healthy disrespect for the establishment, you see. In England you can get trapped by your class. And sort of doing all the things he did—he escaped from it. And you know, I like John a lot and effectively, you know, with him and also Joe Sambrook, who I think is a very important person in the hope of what becoming Cold Spring Harbor because I think he did a tremendous amount of—to build up the research so on and all the—

Joe Sambrook came to me as a post doc. And he came to me from Australia through Frank Fenner. And—interesting thing about Joe is he’s—people say he’s a rough diamond, but Joe’s a rough spade basically! He’s a very tough guy. And he’s always been a throw away. He’s always got plans for what he wants to do and sometimes I think he trapped himself by his own plan. But he was very important for Cold Spring Harbor.

Sydney Brenner is a pioneer in the field of molecular biology. He was born in South Africa in 1927 and received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1954. From 1979 to 1986 he served as Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology and from 1986 to 1991, as the Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory Molecular Genetics Unit, both in Cambridge, England.

Since 1996 he has been the President and Director of Science at the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley. Brenner was honored as a Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2000.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Dr. John Sulston and Dr. Robert Horvitz “for their discoveries concerning ‘genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death’” studying the organism C. elegans.