Recorded: 08 Mar 2006
Well, Alfred Tissières is the head of the Molecular Biology Institute at the University of Geneva. And at Jim’s urging hired me for my first job. And unfortunately he passed away just a few years ago. But Alfred and his wife, Virginia, they also had, they extended enormous hospitality just in that same tradition. And, the… What I remember most about Alfred was, Alfred Tissières was actually a very accomplished mountain climber. Nowadays climbing Mt. Everest, although not commonplace, it’s done very often. But there was a time when nobody had ever climbed Mt. Everest. And when Edmond Hillary and Tensing Norgay (??) became the first people to climb it somewhere in the mid-50s, or in ’53 whatever it was, they relied heavily on information from what has become known as the Swiss Assault on Everest. Because the closest second attempt to climb Everest before that, was by the Swiss. And Alfred had been invited to go on that particular climb. That’s how good a mountain climber he was. He had other commitments so he didn’t go. But that shows you how accomplished he was. And he had quite a reputation. So at the Molecular Biology Institute, it’s actually called Cie en stuitz ??), a building that has, it had then four floors, it is a big steel outside, and in principle there are a lot of things jutting out from the windows. So I of course, from a certain point on had to teach in French. And I remember teaching a graduate class where I told them as a prank that Alfred on certain mornings, to keep in shape, would actually climb up the outside of the building get to his fourth floor office. And they believed me. So they would hang out. They would come early and hang out, they would hang out in the bushes to see him actually climb up the building. And, when they finally found out it was a prank, you know the Swiss don’t quite have the New York sense of humor that I have, so a couple of those students really didn’t speak to me for a long time. In fact we just had, a year and a half ago, the 40th reunion of the Molecular Biology department and this was like, maybe, 30 years after the incident. And I’m telling you, one of those students was still there, and he was still cool to me. I remember that. Alfred was, you know he was very, a European gentleman. Always wore a jacket and tie and had fabulous language skills. You know like so many of the Swiss his English was perfect. And he was a very cultured person. Their house was littered with wonderful art objects. And so I do have a lot of fond memories of him. And it’s unfortunate that he just passed away a couple of years ago.
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).