Recorded: 08 Aug 2001
I only regret that I was too immature, too young to appreciate it and too young to deal with what were really minor political upheavals that sould have been, with a wiser—If I wasn’t to single [out] myself, I couldn’t say that all of us should feel that way. If I were singling myself out as being responsible, I wish I’d been able to manage things better so that it could’ve gone on longer and encompassed more. I think there was more to do that we all could’ve joined in on. I look back and just think that I was just way too young. On the other hand, as Jim [Watson] has pointed out and Jim’s theories about when you’re the most creative maybe those two things go together and you can’t have one without the other. So in that sense maybe that’s not a regret. And there really weren’t any scientific regrets.
The best parts were how often do you get to just go and do exactly what you wanted to do and raise a family at the same time? We didn’t have to suffer. It was a joyful experience.
There were individual time when we found specific things out. You know, I can remember developing the film that said that and you had to look at it really carefully. And this is where the old meets the new because Dave Zipser, of course, was involved in the lac operon part. Dave Zipser was kind of [a] character here by the time we got here. You’d usually see [him] in the mornings reading The New York Times in Bush. He’d be there for hours it seemed like he knew all of the columnists in The New York Times by name and what they thought and so forth. Which didn’t seem very important to us as young Turks. And what we really didn’t know was that he was trying to start a new career in artificial intelligence. He was butting up against Jim [Watson] and he’d had some problems with a post doc and a paper and some results a couple of years before that. So he was not the happiest person in the world.
So I’d gone over and developed a film of some southern blots where we’d probe with what we thought was something that would probe the mating type locus. There was difference between the a-strains and -strains, and even though there were way too many bands to understand because of technical reasons. I knew we had a differences and we’d sort it out and so I was walking back with the film and holding it up to the light and excited and Zipser was coming out of Bush and we met on the road. And he said, “ What do you have?” And I said, “Well, we’ve cloned the mating type locus and we know what the difference is.” I was very excited. Zipser said something like, “Come back and tell me if you’re still happy in ten years.”
James Hicks is a pioneer in the field of yeast genetics. He earned his Ph.D. degree in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Oregon, working with Ira Herskowitz.
Hicks researched with Jeff Strathern and Amar Klar in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 to 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.
Hicks is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of ViroGenomics, a Portland biotech company that is searching for new treatments for chronic and acute viral disease.