Ashley Dunn on Great Research Moments: Discovering RNA Splicing
  Ashley Dunn     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

Well, there were—at the time there were four or five groups working at Cold Spring Harbor on slightly different aspects of the same thing. And a lot of those people—a lot of those individual groups were getting little bits of information that in isolation were puzzles, and it wasn’t quite clear what it all meant. I remember there was a moment—oh, and by the way, we used to meet as groups in the evening in Blackford Hall and discuss all the various bits of information that we got. I think a lot of us without being able to be certain of it had a feeling that these disparate bits of information were in some way explicable by the same—could be explained by the same one proposal. And we had those meetings and at that time we heard a rumor that Phil Sharp at MIT had made a very important discovery and without any information to substantiate this we had a feeling that whatever it was that Phil Sharp had discovered it was the fundamental basis that explained all the data that we got at Cold Spring Harbor. And panic set in. We needed to somehow catch Phil Sharp up.

So he was well established at MIT and he and Susan Berget were continuing to work on adenoviral transcription which is what Phil had worked on while he was at Cold Spring Harbor. [FOR CLIP – START EXPORT HERE IF NECESSARY]

He was known to be competing with us in the area of transcription and we were quite afraid that Phil Sharp was going to scoop us. And so these meetings were to try and see if there was a way in which we could formulate a hypothesis and test it that would explain the various bits of information that we got from our individual research projects.

Richard Roberts at the time was, and Tom Broker and Louise Chow, Rich Gelinas, Dan Klessig—all of these people were contributing to this, but as we all know the critical experiment that was done to explain this involved the electron microscope and actually observing these structures within the EM that we had begun to wonder if they might exist and that by having the snapshot view of them it might fill in the gaps about our knowledge. And of course Louise Chow and Tom Broker were amongst the leaders in the world in this field. And in collaboration with Richard Roberts and Rich Gelinas they were able to do the definitive experiment. And I remember—it may have been that night, it may have been the next morning, but Rich Roberts came running up to James Lab and there was a board there—I think it was a blackboard in those days, not a white board. And he drew these structures out on the board. I remember I was there, Joe Sambrook was there and there was a very great deal of excitement as we saw Rich draw out what we now know is the tripartite sequence.

We all knew it was a “biggie.” We used to call them “biggies” in those days. We knew this was a “biggie,” and of course it was. And then we began to use that information as a basis for explaining the various bits of data that we collected over the years that would account for the fact that RNAs represent copies of DNA that is not contiguous on the chromosome. A very, very exciting period. And we were all working very hard and I think it was so exciting that when we did go to home to snatch a few hours sleep we found it hard to come by. Very, very exciting!

Ashley Dunn is currently a Senior Consulting Scientist and member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Cryptome Pharmaceuticals Ltd., an Australian biotech company. He also serves on Australia’s Gene Technology Advisory Committee. He is the former Head of Molecular Biology in the Melbourne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1976 to work with Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow and eventually became a junior faculty member.

His research has been concentrated on mammalian growth factors and the regulators responsible for the production of white blood cells in mice and men. He co-invented a mammalian blood cell regulator (GM-CSF), and his lab was the one of the first to establish gene targeting in the development of human diseases such as cancer.