Sydney Brenner on Impressions of Jim Watson
  Sydney Brenner     Biography    
Recorded: 10 Jun 2002

First of all I found him [Jim Watson] [to be a] very strange guy. I think there was also—I think Jim was overdoing it a bit, if I can put it that way. I remember that what he liked to do was to wear tennis shoes without the laces and with the heels broken. And he actually bought a new pair and hit them with a hammer to make them look old.

I think Jim was very preoccupied with girls—well, it’s essentially one girl at the time. You know, I’ve written a review of Jim’s book [Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix] in the Times literary supplement. But actually we left out one phrase, you see, because I think the difference between that book and the first book is the first book [The Double Helix] is a book about success. The second book is a book about failure because Jim fails to get the girl, he fails to solve the structure of RNA, [and] Gamow fails to solve the code so everything gets nowhere. So it’s a funny kind of period, but it was, it meant that—you see, the great dream that you would solve it by an intellectual exercise which—and that could be done, so to speak. We now knew it had to be done empirically there was no, there was no interesting relationship between the DNA sequence and the amino, and the code. So—and of course, solving the genetic code became the kind of driving force that the early people got lead to. And so, this is how—that sort of connection was the important one, but I would say that over the years, of course, I’ve kept up with Jim and Jim has come to Cambridge, and I’ve seen him in America. But basically my closest relation was with Francis more than with Jim.

Sydney Brenner is a pioneer in the field of molecular biology. He was born in South Africa in 1927 and received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1954. From 1979 to 1986 he served as Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology and from 1986 to 1991, as the Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory Molecular Genetics Unit, both in Cambridge, England.

Since 1996 he has been the President and Director of Science at the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley. Brenner was honored as a Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2000.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Dr. John Sulston and Dr. Robert Horvitz “for their discoveries concerning ‘genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death’” studying the organism C. elegans.