Matthew Meselson on Jim Watson, Personality
  Matthew Meselson     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jul 2002

Oh, Jim was obviously very intelligent, but he was very impatient. And it seems to me he didn’t ask a lot of questions. Didn’t ask what one was doing much. I remember a couple of occasions, well first on the density gradient. That’s all I remember him every saying was, “Do it in Sweden.” Then when I was at Harvard and Jim was certainly instrumental in bringing me to Harvard with Mc[George] Bundy, I’m sure. Jim—well, that’s a long story about Jim at Harvard—he’s writing a book about it, so you can read that.

So we were pretty convinced here at Harvard, this was in the ‘60s, that DNA modification was caused by the methylation of DNA. And I remember sitting by the blackboard in my office, Jim had come in, I had told him about this and he said no, it was almost certainly protean. He didn’t seem at all interested in why we thought differently. Of course it isn’t protean, it’s methylation. So, I don’t remember Jim as a person who unless it was something that he was already focused on, was interested in—just sitting around and talking about whatever were the scientific interests that, at least, I had.

Jim always was rather impatient, it seemed to me. Always in a hurry. Not given to long thoughtful discussions, but maybe he had long thoughtful discussions with somebody else. So I have only my own memory. Maybe he has long, thoughtful discussions with himself. We all do.

Matthew Meselson earned his Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago in 1951 and from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 under the tutelage of Linus Pauling.

In 1958 with Frank Stahl, Meselson experimentally showed the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication as predicted by Watson and Crick.

He is currently the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard University's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. His laboratory studies sexual reproduction and genetic recombination, and how and why they are maintained in evolution.

Since 1963 Meselson has been interested in chemical and biological defense and arms control, has served as a consultant on this subject to various government agencies and is a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Meselson has received the Award in Molecular Biology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Service Award of the Federation of American Scientists, the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and the 1995 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the Genetics Society of America. Dr. Meselson is presently a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.