Bruce Alberts on Working with Jim Watson on "Molecular Biology of the Cell'
  Bruce Alberts     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Aug 2008

So now, you know, writing a book with Jim is not easy. So I guess Jim is successful in part because he has a great vision of the future. What it should be. And he envisioned that now was the time – 1978 – to bring together microbiology and what had been called cell biology.

He’s got great vision. And he had the inspirational sense that this field called cell biology that up till that time was basically electron microscopy. In fact I remember at Princeton picking up a book on cell biology and seeing and incredibly different world. I didn’t even know what it was. Never even heard of the endoplasmic reticulum as a biochemist! So we didn’t even know any of that stuff. But Jim had the vision that now, in 1978, was the last time to bring together cell biology and molecular biology as a biochemistry of the cell. So that we should do this in a new kind of textbook. And so I was recruited along with many other authors. So the vision was great. But Jim’s sense of how hard it is to do anything or how long will it take was off by a factor of 5 or something. This was probably the reason why he’s a great leader because he inspires people to do things they would never start. I certainly would never have started it if I had known how long it was going to take. In the end the authors, six authors of "The Molecular Biology of the Cell" spent, according to one of our authors who kept track, more than 365 16 hour days together working on this textbook. The first edition. Subsequent editions haven't been as hard, but that’s a kind of work it took to get this thing out. So Jim was frustrating because he would suddenly decide, as he did in the summer in 1979, we can’t do anything more, we’ve got to all stop, we have to write the prologue. Why did we have to write the prologue? So we had to all stop what we were doing and worry about something that in the end that we didn’t really want. Anyway, and we had a little bit of it in the book because it was the first edition but we got rid of it after that! Because of Jim. But anyway…..had this prologue idea…at any rate Jim was both inspiring and frustrating at times because he didn’t really have a recognition of how hard it was to as to do the things he wanted to do. And his impatience, I guess was absolutely essential to getting the book done. But it also made it hard on the authors to feel that we never were doing enough.

Bruce Alberts, currently Editor-in-chief of Science, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the University of California and United States Science Envoy. He received A.B. (1960) in Biochemical Science from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ph.D. (1965) from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1966 he joined Department of Chemistry at the Princeton University and after 10 years he became professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the UCSF.

Alberts work is best known for his work on the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. He is one of the authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, a major textbook in the field. He served two-six years terms as a president of National Academy of Science (1993-2005). During his administration at NAS, he was involved in developing the landmark of National Science Education standards.

Among many honors and awards (16 honorary degrees), he is Co-chair of the InterAcademy Council and a trustee of Gordon and Betty Moore Fundation.

More Information: Wikipedia, UCSF