John Cairns, First Director, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology

John Cairns, an MD and molecular biologist, was the first director appointed by the new Board of Trustees of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology in 1963. He immediately got to work on raising funds and directing the improvement of the run-down facilities of the laboratory while pursuing his own research in Demerec laboratory. He hired scientists who focused their research on the mechanisms of DNA at the molecular level, a new direction for genetics research at that time. Under his direction, the 31st Symposium, The Genetic Code, was held June 2-9, 1966. In the CSHLQB Annual Report for that year, Dr. Cairns reported that, “The Symposium was the first international meeting expressly devoted to the code itself and the book that results will constitute the most authoritative account of the code.” It was the largest meeting held at Cold Spring Harbor at that time for the number of attendees and papers presented. The introduction, titled “the Genetic Code: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” was given by Francis Crick. Cairns resigned as director in 1967, citing an unsupportive Board of Trustees and lack of reliable funding, but stayed on to continue his research at CSHLQB until 1972.


(Listen to John Cairns describe his experiences at CSHL at our Oral History online: )



John Cairns, Lab Director, 1963