Tom Maniatis on Jim Watson as a Writer
  Tom Maniatis     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Mar 2003

I think, I mean he’s a spectacular writer and it came, you know, the same style came through in The Double Helix, you know. This ability to craft sentences and words to be very precise and very clear. And I think it’s generally believed that [The] Molecular Biology of the Gene completely changed the way that textbooks in general are written. Prior to that time there are just huge amounts of verbiage and detail and everything in these books that people felt you had to know to understand something. But The Molecular Biology of the Gene was written—and this is oversimplified—almost like a cartoon, but a very thoughtful cartoon. And he had a way of getting to the most important points and you had to understand—ideas, concepts—without burying them in detail. And that was, I think that was a quality of his writing from the very beginning. And that’s why The Molecular Biology of the Gene captured so many people’s interests because it was so easy to read and the implications were so obvious.

So, as I said, I really didn’t have a deep interest in science when I was in college. I majored in chemistry and biology because that is the—are the two things that I did the best in. But when I finished I really had no plans to go any further with my education. It was during the summer after my senior year that I ran across The Molecular Biology of the Gene. And I read it during the summer. I was working construction and I would read it at night. And the more I read the more excited I got. It was based on the clarity of the text and the diagrams. In the excitement that Jim was able to convey through that book that really influenced me to go into molecular biology. I somehow knew that after I read that book that that’s what I wanted to do.

Tom Maniatis, molecular biologist, is a leader in the field of recombinant DNA. At Vanderbilt University he completed his Ph.D. studying DNA wide-angle scattering. He became a postdoctoral fellow and professor at Harvard University and met Jim Watson just before he became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

While Maniatis was beginning experimentation with cDNA cloning and gene regulation of higher cells, the controversy over recombinant DNA in Cambridge stunted his progression. Watson offered Maniatis a position at CSHL where he could work more efficiently to understand the methods of recombinant DNA. At CSHL, Maniatis completed full-length synthesis of double stranded DNA and actual cloning of cDNA.

He is currently a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University studying the mechanisms involved in the regulation of RNA transciption and pre-messenger RNA splicing. He studies transcription to understand how eukaryotic genes are activated by viral infection and extracellular signals.