Michael Ashburner on Calvin Bridges
  Michael Ashburner     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Jul 2003

Bridges sent them stocks and encouraged them. Bridges was a very, very great geneticist. He died very young in 1941. Bridges had a colorful private life. [T.H.] Morgan who was the boss disapproved and for that reason Bridges never had a faculty job at Caltech. He was also a Carnegie staff member. In the Drosophila field there had always been among the younger people this mystique of how Bridges died. There are lots of elaborate stories going around about how he’d been shot—a lover’s husband. But it turned out to be rather a lot more tragic than that. He died of syphilis, and all the complications of syphilis. We know that because Scott Hawley with whom I’m writing now, Scott’s brother is a D.A.—[he] works in the coroner’s office in L.A. and we eventually got a copy of the death certificate.

It’s interesting because Ed Lewis—he won't say any of this. I know this because Ed gave a talk at the Drosophila meeting last year on Calvin Bridges. It was all very scientific. No personal stuff at all. That’s the tradition at Caltech, you see Sturtevant who is the greatest geneticist ever, in my view, at Caltech, Sturt was a gentleman and in fact redid his papers, his letters before he died. He removed everything which could be derogatory to anybody else. His papers have been self-censored by Sturt. They’re in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Lewis had got the same sort of thing. It would be extremely difficult to get any personal things out of Ed. Ed is wonderful, Ed and his wife, Pam.

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).

Michael Ashburner