Jerry Adams on Collaborating with Suzanne Cory
  Jerry Adams     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

My collaboration with Suzanne Corey has been a great experience. It’s worked out extremely well. We started really in Geneva, Switzerland. We had met in Cambridge, England where we were in separate labs, but we were both working on the structure of RNA and therefore we were both in some way working for Fred Sanger. Actually, Suzanne was actually in Francis Crick’s department. But we were doing similar kind of work and so we—and oddly enough, she had actually heard of me from that work that I had done at Harvard, the Adams and Cappechi PNAS paper. She had actually given a journal club on that in Melbourne. So amazingly enough she actually knew of the existence of me before we actually met.

And we met at a function in Cambridge. And we were actually introduced by Max Perutz. So we’ve always had a very fond memory of Max who just died this last year. And he was a great individual and he actually introduced Suzanne and I so—we’ve always felt very fond of him, fond of Max.

And then we fell in love, as happens, and then Suzanne however was very keen to go back to Australia. So she was under enormous tension as to what to do. She actually came back to Melbourne while I was still in Cambridge. But we wrote a lot and then she finally agreed that we would be married. So we actually were married in Melbourne. I came here. And then Suzanne took me around to all the beaches in Australia and convinced me it was a beautiful place to be. And she also realized though that she had to satisfy my scientific interests, so we actually did visit I think on our honeymoon several institutes to sort of see what they might be like as possible places to work. And this institute was probably the only one really in my opinion that immediately hit us that people were interested in doing high quality internationally competitive science. So we were quite keen to come here.

Then we went to Geneva, Switzerland and though we hadn’t initially planned to work on the same project we suddenly realized we knew some of the same techniques [and] that it was much better to pool our efforts than it was to work separately. And so we started working together. And it worked out very well.

I guess I was about two years older than Suzanne. So at that stage I probably had a stronger role in deciding a lot of things than she did. But as time went on that changed, shifted probably a good bit. She became much more of a mature scientist and as time went on. In fact, I might mention in passing that she—the first essentially public lecture she ever had to give was the opening talk at a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium. I guess it was 1970. So that was for her a very frightening, but maturing experience. And later on she just developed more and more as a scientist.

And so when we came back here it was obviously essential in Melbourne that we work together because we were these lone molecular biologists trying to do this audacious project in trying to understand how antibody genes worked. Very, very difficult. After a long struggle we did manage to make it work. So over time she—we still work together. We’ve always worked together maybe but now we, I’d say we probably work together about maybe sixty percent of the time and the rest of the time we do things more separately.

And then of course the biggest change for both of us has been her appointment as director of the institute here after Gus Nossal’s wonderful career. Of course, its very big shoes to fill because Nossal was a giant of immunology and a superb public speaker, a superb director, really a remarkable man, who we admire greatly. And so at first the idea that either of us might try to become a director seems unbelievably audacious. We couldn’t quite accept the idea, but then as time went on we began to think that maybe it was possible. After all, somebody had to do the job. And maybe it made sense that it be somebody who had grown up scientifically in the institute. And it was much more suited to Suzanne’s disposition than mine. She’s much more relaxed about public presentations, meeting government officials, and that sort of thing that I am. And so she decided to apply for the job with my blessing and encouragement. And she did become the director. That’s made some shift in her priorities obviously, so that now trying to be immersed in science is almost a luxury, at times, for her. She feels a lot of tension because she has so many different types of obligations in the job. But I think she is doing a great job and it’s worked out very well and we still maintain a great scientific relations as well as a personal life.

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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