Tim Tully on “Lucky Jim”
  Tim Tully     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Aug 2003

"Lucky Jim”? I don’t think Jim’s lucky. I don’t think there’s anything lucky about it. I think that—so how do I know that? So, I know that in three basic ways; one, historic, like everyone else did. You know, he sat around one day and came up with the double helix. Well, I guess that could be luck, but let’s look into that a little bit, right?

He was incredibly interested in the problem. He was engrossed in the problem. He spent all of his time thinking about it and figuring out how to figure it. I would say luck, no! That in one very key moment of insight, he put it all together. Along with Francis Crick, of course. That’s not luck. That’s insight. That’s scientific intuition and insight and a moment of genius. It’s not luck.

So, now let’s take another example. The human genome projects, that’s not luck. That’s vision. He saw what could be possible if we simply knew the sequence of the genome and he pushed it. He pushed it past all of the critics. I was one. When this was first emerging as an idea in the mid 1980’s, I said, that’s completely crazy. So little of DNA is useful, that you’re going to spend a million years sequencing crap, so why do it. But, you know, he didn’t sweat the details. He had confidence that we had to know it. He knew that somehow scientists, if they would just agree to do it, would figure out a better, faster way to get the relevant information out and that’s how the story goes. That’s not luck, okay?

So then Jim slides into neuroscience. He has to go out and hire people, self serving as this may be, well, I know the neuroscience here. I know the people who have been hired here and the work that they do. It’s great, world-class work that occurred in less than a decade of starting a program. Is that luck? No. The guy has vision. He understands people. He knows how to choose people. He knows how to motivate people. And he knows how to get the job done. There’s nothing lucky about it.

Tim Tully is a molecular geneticist, interested in finding the genetic and biological basis of memory in order to better identify pharmacological and behavioral treatments for memory loss. In 1981, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Tully joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory staff in 1991 to work on discovering genes involved with memory. He became the St. Giles Foundation Professor of Neuroscience and led the Drosophila learning and memory program. In 1998 he founded Helicon Therapeutics, Inc., a development-stage biotechnology firm that works on new therapies for memory loss and other cognition disorders. In June, 2007, Tully left Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to become Helicon's Acting Chief Scientific Officer, and assume a key role in the Michigan-based Dart Foundation as it expands its interest in funding neuroscience research.

His work on the transcriptional factor CREB gave way to the first experimental demonstration of enhanced memory formation in genetically engineered animals. Tully works to identify genes involved with long-term memory formation. Tully has determined that by the regulation of gene expression, new, long-term memories can be formed due to the growth of new synapses.