Ulf Pettersson on Jim Watson, Writer
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

Exceptional! I think The Double Helix which I did receive as a gift from my mother when I was very young. I was very fascinated with that. I think that’s one of Jim’s really big accomplishments in life besides everything else is that he has changed sort of the view of science and scientists. And I’m sure that many people have—you know, there’s been a challenge to try to copy what he did. And he shared the feeling of excitement in science. His science is some ways, I think, like sports. You want to win. That is only the winner that gets the prize. And I think he brought that feeling through his book. And I think that’s been—was very important for me and has been important for others. I remember also very vividly reading The Molecular Biology of the Gene which I think is the best textbook I ever have read in my life, and still would qualify as the best. It’s just a masterpiece. And whatever other articles that he has produced is always very interesting. They are intriguing. They are challenging. Well, that’s very much reflecting sort of Jim’s personality. I think what Jim never wants to be or would like to be is boring. And I don’t think he’s ever been that. And so it’s always I think a challenge when he writes more public things. It’s clearly also, besides his scientific accomplishments, I think he will be ranked as one of the great educators in science. And, of course, what has been done here in Cold Spring Harbor and in terms of courses and education, I think, is fabulous. I think that had meant a lot also for the lab. I mean that people have been attracted. They’ve come here to take courses and they have realized that this is a marvelous place to do science. I think that’s fantastic. I mean besides then providing opportunities for people to have the training. I mean many people from own lab and from Sweden have come here and been inspired. And actually one of my graduate students is working here as a staff scientist for the moment. So I think that’s clearly a very important—that aspect of Jim’s accomplishments. And so a very important source of inspiration for myself was The Double Helix which was actually was translated into Sweden very shortly after it was published. And I received this as a gift from my mother when I was at the university. And I think that was probably the reason why I really would love to come to Cold Spring Harbor, to be near Jim.

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.