Recorded: 03 Jul 2003
But it was quite fun actually because the initial appointment was going to be in biochemistry and Stanford biochemistry is Arthur Kornberg, the great of DNA replication. Arthur is a very nice man, but if you are 27, he’s quite intimidating: so he interviewed me. I had to try and persuade Arthur that I was a biochemist. Arthur knew I was lying. And I knew that Arthur knew that I was lying. I eventually got along very well with Arthur. A few years later he did something horrible to me. I was giving a seminar; the big seminar in Stanford, in the early ‘70s and Dave was my host. In front there were all the mountains; there was Arthur Kornberg, Paul Berg and I think, Josh Lederberg. Just as I was going to get up to talk, -David introduced me- Arthur got up. He’s not much bigger than I am. In fact, he may be smaller than I am. He put his arm around me and said, “Michael, this better be good!” I got my own back. He came to Cambridge on sabbatical maybe a year later. Actually, both Paul Berg and Arthur came to the sabbatical. I think it was in successive years or very close together. I met Arthur at a party once at Mark Richards’. Mark’s in the LMB [the Laboratory of Molecular Biology]. Mark had a nice, very nice, very old thatched cottage and a large garden and had great garden parties. In fact, you look in one of the footnotes in Horace Judson’s book you’ll find reference to Mark Richards’ parties—The Eighth Day of Creation. I remember that party because I remember Horace being there. This may be even in the same party, I met Arthur there and he was telling a circle of admirers how he’d just bought a Jaguar for a new car. I said, “Arthur, you haven’t! A Jaguar! You can’t!” He said, “Why?” I said, “Arthur, in England only pimps and bookmakers drive Jaguars!” He got very upset. He was a very formal man, Arthur.
Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.
He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.
Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).