Ashley Dunn on Meeting Jim Watson
  Ashley Dunn     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

I met him for the very first time shortly after I arrived at Cold Spring Harbor as a visitor. One of my favorite stories that I like to tell that Joe Sambrook, by the way, I think, has serious reservations about whether this really happened. I think it certainly did happen.

At that time I was running lots of gels. And Joe and I had heard that a guy named Bill Studiae (??) who worked at Stonybrook had started to run gels at very high pH--alkaline gels and when you ran DNA on these gels the strands of DNA would separate and run into the gel and when you stained it with ethidium bromide you could actually see two strands running separately in the gel and those two strands were running separately on the basis of their slightly different chemical composition. And it occurred to Joe and I that if you were to block these RNAs, excuse me, blot these DNAs in a traditional Southern Blot way and then put RNA on those Southern Blots you could map RNAs and decide which strand was their complementary strand, the substrates for their synthesis.

Well, I remember one day running one of these gels and I had a Polaroid picture of this gel and instead of having two strands on this gel there were in fact three. In hindsight the explanation for that was that two of the bands that we saw were in fact the single strands the third was reannealed DNA, so it was in fact the double helix. I went in to Joe’s office that was right next door to Jim Watson’s office with this Polaroid picture that had three strands of DNA on it. And I said to Joe before I realized what it was, “What’s going on, Joe?” I seem to have three strands of DNA, and not two.” At that very moment Jim Watson walked by Joe Sambrook’s office and Joe called him in and said, “Jim, you know Ashley, don’t you?” and he sort of had met me vaguely. And Joe turned to Jim and said, “Ashley’s got a picture here. He thinks DNA is a triple helix and not a double helix. He can see three bands on this gel.” And I looked at Jim Watson feeling—I probably blushed—feeling that I was in great danger of spending one of the shortest periods of my life at any laboratory because Jim would not be happy realizing that this little upstart from Birmingham, England was claiming that he and Francis had got it wrong it was in fact a triple helix. Jim, I think, couldn’t quite work out whether Joe was absolutely serious. He knew Joe very well. And Joe as we all know is full of mischief. And Jim had to decide whether this was mischief or whether this was serious. I think Jim found an excuse to leave. He couldn’t quite handle this, didn’t know how to react to it and left. And I remember turning to Joe and thanking him for probably ruining my career before it had even started.

But again that’s a lovely story, I think and typical I think of Joe. And says a lot about Joe Sambrook and probably quite a bit about Jim Watson and myself too.

Ashley Dunn is currently a Senior Consulting Scientist and member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Cryptome Pharmaceuticals Ltd., an Australian biotech company. He also serves on Australia’s Gene Technology Advisory Committee. He is the former Head of Molecular Biology in the Melbourne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1976 to work with Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow and eventually became a junior faculty member.

His research has been concentrated on mammalian growth factors and the regulators responsible for the production of white blood cells in mice and men. He co-invented a mammalian blood cell regulator (GM-CSF), and his lab was the one of the first to establish gene targeting in the development of human diseases such as cancer.