Recorded: 17 Jan 2003
I remember that we had a young student called Bob Hanish who was working in the lab and he was assigned to work with me and also between me and Bob Tjian. He was doing some experiments where he was taking the proteins from cells that had these deleted viruses in them and then looking at the profiles of the proteins. And it was really his protein studies that demonstrated that this deleted—this small t-protein which of course came up with antibodies against t-antigen was either smaller or completely missing in these mutants that were generated.
So Bob was great fun. He was not part of the competitive Cold Spring Harbor scene at all. I think he was a medical student and was going to go into obstetrics as I recall. He kind of regarded me as a mother figure because I was a little bit older than some of the other postdocs. I was about 29 at the time whereas a lot of them were in their early 20s and so, also because I came from Australia, because I wasn’t really exactly part of the U.S. scene I was a little apart from most of the competition that was going on. So he decided that I was a mother and that I was relatively sane compared with many of these other people who were there. He kind of used me as his confidante during this period. But he was a lovely guy and I’m sure he went on to become a really good doctor, subsequently, but I think he might have got put off by scientific research forever by this experience. But he did great work while he was there.
He was there in his summer holidays and then just at the end of the summer there was a meeting, a tumor virus meeting at which both groups, the London group and ourselves on the first night of the conference recorded these findings. It was a very exciting time because this was the hot information for SV40 at the time so it was sort of my minor time as a superstar. It was really quite good fun. But also an enormous confidence booster as well.
Merilyn Sleigh is a pharmacologist, molecular biologist and dean in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of New South Wales. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in pharmacology and another PhD in molecular biology at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), she came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to work under Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow researching the protein production of SV40. She returned to CSIRO, establishing one of the first laboratories in Australia using genetic engineering approaches to study influenza virus structure, evolution and gene regulation. She has become involved in developing the biotechnological industry in Australia. Sleigh is founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association and is currently Chief Executive of EvoGenix, a start-up biotechnology company located in Australia.