Recorded: 15 Jan 2003
One of the stories that I love to recall is one that is about the time of the discovery of splicing. And there was a huge amount of excitement at the time as anyone that’s looked at the history of splicing would know.
I think it was 1977. And so we were all aware that they symposium was due and this was an opportunity to present the exciting information that we had. We knew that Phil Sharp would be there presenting his discoveries as well. And the question of writing a paper came up and publishing that paper in the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium volumes. And there were a few issues to be resolved; the authorship, who was actually going to make the presentation at the symposium and quite how we were going to stitch the various pieces of work together.
I remember having a conversation in James Lab with Jim Watson about this. It so happened that of all the people involved in those discoveries I think I was geographically closer to Jim in as much as my office was just two doors away from his. So I used to see him quite a lot. And he used to say to me in the corridor now and again or inquire of me how things were going, how’s the paper coming along. And I used to try and stall him a little bit and say that we were in deep discussions about how to do this. And he said to me one day, “Had we considered putting the paper together that was a little more like the ‘The Double Helix’ style of telling the story than a true scientific and traditional scientific story as told in the usual way in the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia.” And the reason he thought that this would be interesting and worth giving some thought to, was that the story was one of mystique and rumors and mysteries and gossip and it was an interesting story in that sense. And Jim said, whether it was advice or not, I don’t know, I think it was, “Why don’t you do a ‘Double Helix’ type of story?” So I said to him that I would confer with my colleagues and I did so. And I would get back to him. So I did talk to my colleagues and their reaction was [that] “you must be joking! Its okay for Jim, he’s very famous, we’re trying to get famous and you can only do that once you are famous”.
So I saw Jim in the corridor a few weeks later and he said, “Ah, how’s it going? Have you decided how to write this story?” And I said, “Well, yes we have and I must say there was a little bit of reluctance about going the ‘Double Helix’ style.” And he said to me, and I remember it very well, “Ashley, there comes a time in life where you have to decide whether you’re going to run with the pack or go it alone. Clearly you lot are going to run with the pack.” And with that he walked off leaving me feel rather deflated.
I have a lot of fondness in recalling that story because I think it was a very exciting discovery. And there was an opportunity there to do something a little bit out of the ordinary and had we followed Jim’s advice we would have done that. Who knows whether it would have profited any of us after the event. More to have gone Jim’s route than it would to do the traditional one. But we decided at the end of the day we would write a traditional story and I don’t know whether Jim was disappointed with that or not, but I like telling that story anyway.
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.