Jerry Adams on Discovering the Initiation Mechanism for Polypeptides
  Jerry Adams     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

Well in terms of my own career it was the first time you discover something is always probably—in some ways the most memorable and certainly the work that Mario Cappechi and I did in discovering the initiation mechanism for polypeptides was quite extraordinary. I had done part of the experiment by learning how to label the formal methionine transfer in a way that it sort of could be studied. And Mario had a protein synthetic system working. So the idea was to see if in fact this formal methionine would actually be incorporated into protein, and indeed it was. And so I can remember standing beside Mario as he was taking the radioactive tape off the machine and it was immediately clear that formal methionine had been incorporated in the polypeptides and by its nature that meant that it had to be going in at the amino-terminus. That it had to be the initiator of polypeptide synthesis. So it was a very exciting time trying to quickly round off that story and get it ready for publication.

It helped a lot that Jim, he hated our, some of the early writing we did. He insisted on putting in a few of his own notable flavors to the writing. For example, he referred to the bizarre “composition that amino-terminus” and in an early draft I tried to take that out. And he told me that I didn’t know much about writing. He was absolutely right and I learned a lot from that. So that was the greatest early moment probably.

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.