Ulf Pettersson on Jim Watson, Personality & Influence
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

Other things that I remember was, of course, that I had my office next to Jim’s. And the way he interacted with me was that I would come and the question he would always ask is how are the experiments going? And I would tell him, and we would have a little discussion. I think that was how he kept informed about it.

Again, I think, this tremendous spirit that was almost like having the Holy Ghost in the lab. I mean he’s not very visible, but there was something. My theory is that the way that Jim has made Cold Spring Harbor into such an outstanding place is that when it is his vision, I mean knowing what science will be about tomorrow, he’s sort of an icon status which attracts people and he has a very strong nose for selecting young, promising people.

I think that many here during the symposium have told that the decision of hiring somebody was made very quickly, like in my own case. I mean, Joe just said, why don’t you come to Cold Spring Harbor and. I got a letter from Jim saying that this would be okay. And I think that is very important.

And another thing that is so astonishing with Cold Spring Harbor is I think that what you could say, is that Jim has made Cold Spring Harbor into a cathedral of science, both intellectually and physically. I meant the place is so beautiful. I think many people were surprised in the ‘70s when they started their transformation of the lab into this beautiful place and felt that it was all that Jim would worry about where trees would be, and the color of the house and so forth. And I think today we can just say with admiration that this is a fabulous what has been accomplished. .

And there is another thing of his visions that even of scientists through their dedication work, day and night in the lab. I think we need beauty. We need to have nice surroundings. And this is a source of inspiration. And he, I think, should be recognized for it. And at least be recognized for all the things he has done to beautify Cold Spring Harbor.

Yes. I mean it’s not easy to interact with Jim. He is a very special person. And you have perhaps the feeling that in some sense he is shy, and sometimes he is the opposite, very outspoken.

And most people, except his very close friends, I think would feel a little bit uncomfortable in his presence because—I think he actually phrased that himself. His strength is not small talk. I mean he doesn’t want to talk about nonsense. As a personal friend, I think I find it very easy to interact with Jim. I mean he’s always been extremely friendly and kind. But I think that many people find that Jim is a little odd, or how you would phrase it. That it’s not always so easy to have a relaxed conversation with him. I hope I’m not too outspoken. The last thing I would like to do is hurt Jim. So, please cut it away if you think I’m saying something that...

Ulf Pettersson, geneticist and virologist, is the vice-president of the University of Upssala in Sweden, a professor of medical genetics, and a leader of a group on genetic disease in the Department of Genetics and Pathology. His scientific research is focused on finding genes linked with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

After finishing his medical degree in Sweden and his thesis on adenovirus proteins, he came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked as a postdoc alongside Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. He researched transcription and the methods by which to grow and extract adenovirus DNA and studied how to use restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. His work led to the understanding of how the chromosome is organized and how transcription takes place. In the 80’s he slowly altered his concentration from virology to genetics.

After leaving Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1973 he became a professor of microbiology at the University of Uppsala and then chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics. He was a member of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) (1992-1998), and is currently a member of both the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences.