Gerald Rubin on Sydney Brenner
  Gerald Rubin     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

I was here in my second summer as an URP, and I actually—my first summer as an URP and I was thinking about what I wanted to do my second summer which would have been the summer after I graduated before I thought I would go to graduate school somewhere in the U.S.. And I was here at Cold Spring Harbor, and there was a graduate student from the MRC, Alan Smith, who was here. And I said can I get a job working for the summer at the MRC in Cambridge though. It sounded like it could be a good place, to Alan and he said, well, I’ll go back and I’ll let you know. And so he went back and he said, no, we don’t take summer students, but you can apply here to do a PhD. But if you’re not a British citizen, you have to get a fellowship or whatever.

So I went back to MIT and a lot of people at MIT had done postdocs at the MRC and they knew this. And they all said, well, you just have to write a letter to Sydney Brenner. So I wrote a letter to Sydney Brenner saying can I come to your lab to do my PhD. And he wrote back and said, no, you can’t come to my lab. I’m not taking a student, but we have other junior staff members—there’s a guy named Andrew Travers, who just came here and if you want to be his student, he’ll write you, I gave him all of your papers. So I got a letter back from Andrew Travers, and sent him my c.v. and letters of reference and I wrote for fellowships and I ended up going to Cambridge. And so Sydney was the department chair on, you know, my floor. I was on the second floor at the MRC. I had this much space between the balance and the PH meter, in a big lab. John Sulston worked in the lab that I was in. There was a lot of interesting people there. And Sydney was down there.

Now because I only had this much space, I realized that the only way I could do any experiments was to work after five o’clock at night because a lot of people went home for dinner and didn’t come back. And between five o’clock at night and eight o’clock in the morning, you could have all the lab space you wanted. So I decided I would do this. Now Sydney Brenner does not sleep more than two hours a night. And Sydney always needs an audience. So my major educational thing in grad school, I mean other than taking courses, was to go into the coffee room at two o’clock in the morning and get a cup of coffee and Sydney would be sitting there at the table working. And you would go in there, and he would need an audience and you would be blessed with a monologue for an hour or two. So I had hundreds of hours of monologues from Sydney when I was a gradate student. And I had Sydney arrange my postdoc so when it was time for me to do a postdoc, we talked about what would be good to do, where I should go, and Sydney said, fine, I arrange it for you and that was it. And that was how I arrange my postdoc. It was Sydney who talked to Dave Hogness and sort of fixed it up for me to go there. So I’ve known Sydney for a very long time.

Mila Pollock: Do you stay in touch?

Yes, yeah, I see him quite a bit. And he’s a remarkable person, I mean. I mean he, you could get on tape for—

Gerald Rubin is a geneticist, molecular and cell biologist. As Director of the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project, he led the sequencing of the entire fruit fly genome. Currently, as Vice President and Director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, his research focus is on developing the biological and computer tools that are capable of analyzing and displaying the vast amount of information available from the genomic DNA sequencing of the fruit fly. He uses these advanced techniques to decipher gene regulation and expression at a genome-wide level in Drosophila and determine the function of certain fruit fly genes.

Gerald Rubin is also a professor of Genetics and Development at the University of California, Berkeley. He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as an URP (Undergraduate Research Program) in the early 70’s working under Lionel Crawford and Ray Gesteland before moving to Cambridge to earn his Ph.D. in molecular biology. He did postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine and became an assistant professor of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School prior to commencing his genetics professorship at Berkeley in 1983.

Gerald Rubin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Among the awards he has received is the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry.