Jerry Adams on Becoming a Scientist
  Jerry Adams     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

Well, I’d always been fascinated by the “why” sort of questions. And when I was in college, that was in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, I had expected to become a physician, a doctor. But one of the courses I took late in my college career was in embryology. It was a course designed really for med students. And so I got a flavor of what medical education was like at that time. It was highly descriptive. In fact, in this course the instructor deliberately skipped over the one chapter that dealt with the mechanisms of embryology, which I thought was the only thing really that was fascinating about it. So it was entirely descriptive.

So I decided I wanted to know much more about the “why” of things rather than just the description of what happened. So that’s why I decided to go into pure science.

Well, I had already done chemistry as my major at Emory. And fortunately it was a very good chemistry department, so I had a good background in that. And the way that I got into molecular biology was that NSF for one year, it was probably about 1961, had a summer school where they invited selected people from various small colleges to encourage them to go into this new field of molecular biology. And I went to that. It was held in Boston and a number of the leading people spoke there. I imagine that Jim Watson spoke there, though I don’t have a clear memory of that at the moment.

They only did this one year but it was sort of when they realized that more and more people were already going into this. That is wasn’t really necessary to try and encourage them that much. I was aware already of what was happening. That there was whole new area of science where DNA was the driving paradigm I was trying to understand how genes work, so I was at least vaguely aware of it even from my college training though I hadn’t had that much biology I could still see that this was going to be something new and so I was fascinated by it and wanted therefore to go there. I guess I was also attracted to Harvard by just its reputation as a great citadel of knowledge in general, so that was probably was attracted me to go there, to Harvard.

And, I guess later on I decided to go into the Watson lab and fortunately he took me on.

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.

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