Recorded: 20 Aug 2003
Yes, I think that you could say that Jim was lucky in the sense that he won the race for the double helix. I think it’s very well written in the book, which now was published for the celebration. I mean many people who were very close to making the discovery. And it probably have been made very soon if Watson and Crick would not have done it. Of course, he was lucky in probably going to England at the right time, meeting Francis Crick, but I think it would be very unfair to say that it was just that he was lucky. I mean Jim knew at that time that the holy grail of science was the structure of DNA. And he also realized that, and that’s the greatness of Jim, I think. He knows what problems are solvable. He realized that he would be able to work this out and he did that with the intensity that was required to win the race. So, I think in that sense he has been-- he’s been lucky because of many things. I mean he was endowed with good genes. And, of course, a smart person and a unique sample of our species. You know, there’s never existed anyone like Jim, and there will probably never be one of his kind.
Ulf Pettersson, geneticist and virologist, is the vice-president of the University of Upssala in Sweden, a professor of medical genetics, and a leader of a group on genetic disease in the Department of Genetics and Pathology. His scientific research is focused on finding genes linked with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
After finishing his medical degree in Sweden and his thesis on adenovirus proteins, he came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked as a postdoc alongside Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. He researched transcription and the methods by which to grow and extract adenovirus DNA and studied how to use restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. His work led to the understanding of how the chromosome is organized and how transcription takes place. In the 80’s he slowly altered his concentration from virology to genetics.
After leaving Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1973 he became a professor of microbiology at the University of Uppsala and then chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics. He was a member of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) (1992-1998), and is currently a member of both the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences.