Jerry Adams on Watson & Sanger
  Jerry Adams     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

Watson always had a feeling that technique wasn’t something very important. Technique was just something that you could learn to solve a problem. So he actually had the courage to think that he could actually understand X-ray diffraction enough to answer an important question about the DNA structure which of course ably aided by Francis Crick he was able to do. So he always, never put much interest in his own technique whereas Sanger had totally the opposite point of view.

He thought that science was really driven by technique and that applications were just in a way an example of how a technique could be made, and what you could achieve by it. And in a way I think they represent the two poles, two polar views of science both of which I think are completely correct even though they’re divergent. And that technique is highly important for suddenly allowing one to make, answer questions, to ask questions in a new sort of way. So that there’s always this tension between questions arising and then someone needed to develop the techniques that take it to the step where it can be solved.

So, of course, Sanger was also a remarkable different personality from Jim, too. That was quite a shock in a way. He was extremely modest person whereas Jim is very flamboyant and quirky even. Sanger was a very reserved and modest man. It would never; it would never—putting one down whereas Jim could sometimes be pretty harsh in his questioning of people. He saw it as the harsh questioning at a seminar was appropriate for sort of peeling away the layers of doubt and getting at the hard kernel of truth. So that that seminars at Harvard were sometimes quite aggressive affairs indeed. Whereas Sanger was a very reserved person, very gentle person. So a very great contrast of two remarkable scientists.

Jerry Adams, currently Professor and Joint Head of Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is noted for his achievements in molecular biology, immunology and the molecular genetics of cancer. After completing his BSc in Chemistry at Emory University in 1962, he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard under James Watson. During this time, Adams and Mario Capecchi discovered the initiation mechanism for polypeptides. Adams earned his degree in 1967 and went on to do post-doctoral work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, where he met his wife, Suzanne Cory. They did further research in Geneva, and in 1972 joined The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

Adams and his research team have made many major contributions to medical science. They were the first to clone mammalian genes in Australia and discovered: (i) that antibody genes encode to recombine in a myriad of ways to fight infection; (ii) the genetic mutation that leads to Burkitt’s lymphoma and (iii) the connection between apoptosis and cancer, while studying bcl-2 gene in follicular lymphoma (with David Vaux).

Adams is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1986), a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1992), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Victoria (1997) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.