Recorded: 15 Jan 2003
Was he lucky to get the DNA structure? In some sense he was lucky. But in a sense it was a matter of having the bravery to try to confront the most important problem in biology so that had nothing to do with luck. It was determination, it was audacious, particularly as I have mentioned that Jim had no real understanding of detail molecular structure, I think when he started that problem. And he just said to, sort of, be self-taught to try to learn as went along the idea of taking on something as ambitious as that and trying the structure of a molecule without knowing the basic fundamentals of the field is mind boggling, really.
But it paid off. And I think—so I didn’t think he was lucky. He was lucky in some ways, that he found Crick, that they got together, that they hit it off, that they could provide complimentary skills. Maybe he was lucky in that he had occasionally been more aware of the DNA problem than many other people knew. But many other people could have had the same general kind of idea that the DNA structure was highly important and needed to be rigorously pursued. He was the one that just threw himself totally into it. So I don’t think he was really lucky. He was a little bit lucky. But he was mostly drive, determination and being in the right place where he could put it all together.
Jerry Adams, currently Professor and Joint Head of Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is noted for his achievements in molecular biology, immunology and the molecular genetics of cancer. After completing his BSc in Chemistry at Emory University in 1962, he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard under James Watson. During this time, Adams and Mario Capecchi discovered the initiation mechanism for polypeptides. Adams earned his degree in 1967 and went on to do post-doctoral work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, where he met his wife, Suzanne Cory. They did further research in Geneva, and in 1972 joined The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.
Adams and his research team have made many major contributions to medical science. They were the first to clone mammalian genes in Australia and discovered: (i) that antibody genes encode to recombine in a myriad of ways to fight infection; (ii) the genetic mutation that leads to Burkitt’s lymphoma and (iii) the connection between apoptosis and cancer, while studying bcl-2 gene in follicular lymphoma (with David Vaux).
Adams is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1986), a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1992), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Victoria (1997) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.