Recorded: 08 Mar 2006
Well, I’m part of that generation that first got inspired to do science perhaps by reading that classic book called Microbe Hunters which just told different case histories of some of the great people who found cures for different diseases. And, I then got my parents when I was about 12 to get me a Gilbert chemistry set for Christmas, and I was hooked. So I had just always been in love with science. And I was fortunate enough to go to the University of Rochester where they had some really good chemistry and biology programs, and I was actually a double major in chemistry and biology, until the very last semester when I just only finished the biology. But I had always been interested in understanding life processes at the molecular level.
So when I graduated in 1966 the field really was what, at what we now realize was a very embryonic stage. It had only been four years since Jim Watson and Francis Crick had won the Nobel Prize. It had only been 13 years since they had found the structure of DNA, and actually the genetic code wasn’t even completely cracked, although it was just being finished. And it was an interesting time to go into molecular biology because what’s so difficult today for young people today to appreciate is when at that point in time one couldn’t sequence DNA, there was no PCR, and many of the things we all do and take for granted now just didn’t exist then. There weren’t Southerns, there weren’t monoclonal antibodies, just… the technology was just at a very low ebb. So it just represented a tremendous…there were no microarrays, and on and on. It presented a tremendous challenge just to get data. Today we’re awash in a sea of data. I mean we have genomic sequencing. One couldn’t even sequence anything; on the DNA level you could sequence RNA. And so it was a very interesting time in retrospect.
Jeffrey H. Miller, Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. After receiving his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Rochester, he did graduate work in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard in the department that included Jim Watson and Walter Gilbert, doing his thesis work under Jonathan Beckwith at Harvard Medical School. His postdoctoral work was pursued under Benno Müller-Hill at the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne in Germany, followed by 11 years on the faculty at the University of Geneva's Department of Molecular Biology, which was then headed by Alfred Tissières. In 1983 he joined the faculty at UCLA, where his scientific focus has been large-scale DNA sequencing and genomic analysis, the enzymology of DNA repair, protein structure, and the role of DNA repair enzymes in human cancer. He received the 2007 Career Award for Research from the Environmental Mutagen Society.
Miller has been a frequent participant at Cold Spring Harbor Symposia, a course lecturer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and a co-organizer of two meetings at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Banbury Center. He has been a consultant and principal in various biotechnology companies since the 1980s. In 1994 he co-founded Diversa Corporation, which has merged to become Verenium, a publicly owned biofuel company. He is the author of several books and laboratory manuals published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, including "Experiments in Molecular Genetics" (1972), "A Short Course in Bacterial Genetics" (1992), and "Discovering Molecular Genetics" (1996).