James Wyngaarden on Lucky Jim
  James Wyngaarden     Biography    
Recorded: 18 Aug 2003

I think that one makes luck primarily. Sure, you could use if you wanted to be hypercritical that had he come along at a time when there was say no x-ray crystallographic pictures of DNA to deal with, it would have been very hard for them to come up with the double helical structure. But, of course, no one had interpreted them correctly at that point. I mean Linus Pauling for example was talking about a triple helical structure. And unfortunately Rosalind Franklin had died and probably had not interpreted them yet. So you can only use certain things at a certain time in the evolution of science. And you can say, well, wasn’t it was lucky he was born when he was because his mind was such that in the partnership with Francis Crick was such that they were jointly able to take advantage of that moment with what little data there was and reason to a structure. Is that luck? I don’t know. I think that’s probably opportunity that they seized on and made work. Anybody else in the field could have done the same thing, but no one else did. So I don’t know. I think more luck is primarily a result of brilliant insights, which he certainly had.

James B. Wyngaarden is a medical doctor, biochemist and medical science advisor. He served as director of the National Institutes of Health, associate director for Life Sciences in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, and as director of the Human Genome Organization. Wyngaarden is currently part of the Washington Advisory Group, LLC and director of four biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies. Wyngaarden is also co-author of the textbook The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disease.

He researches the regulation of purine biosynthesis, the production of uric acid and he helped initiate the use of allopurinol, a drug developed as an anticancer agent and now used as a treatment for gout. While serving as director of the National Institutes of Heath, he enlisted the help of Dr. Watson in 1988 to begin the Human Genome Project. Jim obliged and joined the NIH as the associate director for Human Genome Research, while still acting as director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.