Michael Ashburner on Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner’s Influence
  Michael Ashburner     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Jul 2003

Well, [I had conversations] more in some ways with both Francis and Sydney because there were major controversies at the time actually due to models of chromosome structure which people like Charlie Thomas and Mick Callan were proposing. Of course, this was all before the days of DNA cloning. We discussed quite often and I changed my research as a consequence of that. I started working on the gene called ADH which codes alcohol dehydrogenase in Drosophila because we thought we could, purely by genetic techniques, distinguish between different chromosome models: but actually it turned out not to work. It was simply too difficult and no one could come up with a really rigorous experiment.

That switch in my research was actually very largely due to conversations with Francis and Sydney. Then the whole thing became moot because the development of cloning technology and the adoption of –I remember a demonstration particularly by David Hogness in Stanford that you could clone Drosophila DNA and then it was no point in trying to do that genetically. It could be done much more trivially. So, I actually started to clone ADH in the late ‘70s. In fact, we did clone ADH and we started to sequence it.

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