Alfred Tissières on Jim Watson, Francis Crick, and the Double Helix
  Alfred Tissières     Biography    
Recorded: 04 Jun 2001

When I came back from Caltech, Francis had heard that I had been at Caltech and I met Francis in the streets going somewhere, and he said, “How are you? Just back from Caltech. We must get together.” He is a fantastic individual and so he asked me to come and have lunch the following day and of course he asked me about certain things and I didn't know the answer very well because I didn’t know much genetics. But anyway he asked me very pointed questions on what had happened at Caltech and so on and so forth. So he was, Francis was interested to know what people were going around and doing, what they were going to work on. Well Jim kept his criticisms of things and he was open and if the criticism was alright, Francis would made it appear as if he accepted criticism. He was that type of person. Of course Francis was very sharp, you know him. An amazing person; rarely he was wrong, very rarely. Jim was this young fellow who went in different directions and spoke right and left. Jim at that time when he was in Cambridge, he was visiting with all kinds of biologists and scientists. And sometime the king, Linus Pauling, whose children were in Cambridge, Linda and Peter. So Jim was really, he wanted to be backed by good science and sometime Jim was very difficult and people were old fashioned and they were thinking, I'm sure they were thinking, “Who is this young fellow who’s criticizing me and being so disagreeable?” I think Bragg was one if those people. And finally somebody, I can't remember this very well, somebody [Max Perutz] said to Bragg that Jim was a good person and Bragg started listening to him.

Max Perutz had some [criticism], when Jim started writing his book, Max was highly critical because Max was a conventional individual from Austria and Jim was sending it to people right and left and Max had a problem and when Jim started showing some of the things that he had been writing. Max thought Jim couldn't write, he said that's terrible. We understand why he said that sort of thing because, strangely enough, Jim had in his mind, he knew how—maybe he wasn’t always very successful—but he knew how to write and that was one of the things that was amazing with Jim. He was, from the beginning, a good writer. Of course, on his first writing, he had to work in the game and listen to the criticism of his father, “Jim you have to rewrite that.” Jim would be very mad but then understand them just sending it to people.

Alfred Tissières was a biologist, biochemist and geneticist. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge for his work at the Molteno Institute and subsequently did postdoctoral work on respiratory enzymes at Caltech under Max Delbruck.

Soon after returning to Cambridge, Watson suggested he come to Harvard to work on microsomal particles in E. coli.

At Harvard, Tissières and Jim discovered that ribosomes were made of two unequal pieces, each containing protein and RNA. Tissieres began a professorship at the University of Geneva where his laboratory has become prominent in the field of ribosome research.

Alfred first attended a symposium at Cold Spring Harbor in 1961 and when Jim Watson became director, Tissières would regularly visit with his family during the summer.