Recorded: 22 Mar 2003
Well, I grew up in a family in which no one went to college. And it was quite by chance that I went to university. I was on the track team and the state meet was in Boulder and I met people there and decided to go.
When I was in college I majored in chemistry and biology because I had a good high school teacher in chemistry and actually when I finished my undergraduate work I didn’t know what I was going to do. I really had no plans. And I went back to work in construction. And that summer I read The Molecular Biology of the Gene, it had just come out in the bookstore and it had a profound effect on me. It was written so clearly and it so exciting that I knew that after I had read that book that that’s what I wanted to do.
The problem was that I didn’t have particularly good grades. I hadn’t applied to graduate school. So I had an advisor in college; I did undergraduate research with him. And he managed to make it possible for me to start graduate school there. So I started graduate school in Colorado to work on a master’s degree. And after a year and a half I knew I wanted to move on. And I had made contact with a person at the medical school in Denver at the University of Colorado Medical School, a person by the name of Leonard Lerman. And he was just moving to Vanderbilt in a new position in the department of molecular biology at Vanderbilt. So I applied and was accepted and I went there. I did my Ph.D. on wide angle scattering of DNA in Leonard Lerman’s lab.
Tom Maniatis, molecular biologist, is a leader in the field of recombinant DNA. At Vanderbilt University he completed his Ph.D. studying DNA wide-angle scattering. He became a postdoctoral fellow and professor at Harvard University and met Jim Watson just before he became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
While Maniatis was beginning experimentation with cDNA cloning and gene regulation of higher cells, the controversy over recombinant DNA in Cambridge stunted his progression. Watson offered Maniatis a position at CSHL where he could work more efficiently to understand the methods of recombinant DNA. At CSHL, Maniatis completed full-length synthesis of double stranded DNA and actual cloning of cDNA.
He is currently a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University studying the mechanisms involved in the regulation of RNA transciption and pre-messenger RNA splicing. He studies transcription to understand how eukaryotic genes are activated by viral infection and extracellular signals.