Hamilton Smith on Matt Meselson
  Hamilton Smith     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Mar 2006

Matt was really, in my early years, was my favorite scientist. First of all, he worked in recombination. He was one of these very thoughtful, almost theoretical type of guys. Very serious; whereas I’m totally non-serious. But, you know, he was kind of the leader in early studies on recombination. I had one incident with him that was—I never blamed him or anything but—I had, in 1998, before I launched into the Haemophilus work, I had essentially independently deduced the Holliday structure. I’d never heard of Holliday, I never read any of those papers. I came up with the diffusional model with the synapse going down, and actually talked about it at Hopkins and showed models and chains and stuff. Everybody was very impressed. I wrote up the paper and I consider it still to this day probably my favorite piece of work, because it was purely deductive, based on an idea that how can molecules re-combine while maintaining maximum integrity. That was the underlying theme of the thing. So I sent it to Sal Luria for the Proceedings; we had communicated earlier, the first paper I had written. And he sent it out to Matt for review. In those days, of course it was very informal. He said, I want Matt to take a look at this and he’ll call you and talk about it. Which was OK. So Matt says, well, I’ve been reviewing Holliday’s work and I was going to write up a sort of a mathematical treatment of the diffusion model – could we do this together? And you know, I said, well – I’d sent the paper out already to four or five other people – I said, all right, why don’t you send me something? Well, it went on and on till about a year I guess, and it just petered down. He finally wrote up the thing in his paper and I never published mine. I still have copies of it. But Charlie Radding who worked very closely with Matt Meselson always said I should have published it.

Hamilton Smith is a U.S. microbiologist born Aug. 23, 1931, New York, N.Y. Smith received an A.B. degree in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 and the M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1956. After six years of clinical work in medicine (1956-1962), he carried out research on Salmonella phage P22 lysogeny at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1962-1967). In 1967, he joined the Microbiology Department at Johns Hopkins.

In 1968, he discovered the first TypeII restriction enzyme (HindII) and determined the sequence of its cleavage site. In, 1978 he was a co-recipient (with D. Nathans and W. Arber) of the Nobel in Medicine for this discovery.

He is currently the Scientific Director Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy Distinguished Professor at the J. Craig Venture Institute in Rockville, Maryland.