Anna Marie Skalka on Al Hershey, Mentor
  Anna Marie Skalka     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Mar 2003

So Al Hershey—he was very much interested, at the time, in perfecting technologies. He was very interested in kind of squeezing all the information you could out of a particular technology so that was his focus at the time. And we were all busy working on these different systems. He was wonderful. He would talk to all of us but only if we initiated the conversation. So we would have a result and we would go and talk to him and then he would give us—he would think about it and—often he wouldn’t say too much about it at the time, but the next morning we would come into the laboratory and there would be two or three pages of written comments on what we had said, and what might be fun to do or he would sometimes give us whole pages of treatises on how to do labeling, radioactive labeling or how to do—the best way to do centrifugation. So he communicated very well in a written form. And it was nice because you had documentation and I actually made a book, a collection of all of these wonderful things that he had given to us and it’s about that thick.

Al Hershey had this policy that he did not put his name on a paper unless he actually did an experiment that was in there. So for many of us we had a really rare opportunity, that was, we were postdocs or associates in the laboratory, but the mentors name wasn’t on the paper. And that was in many ways very nice for our careers. But we were always of course very, very careful about getting his input. And he would take a paper and he would read it and correct it and I can remember the first paper that I wrote for him. It was for the journal PNAS [Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences]. And I was really excited for this paper and I wrote it very carefully and I thought it was terrific and I gave it to him. And the next morning he came back and he said, “This is very nice, very well written.” And he gave it back to me and almost every third line was crossed out. I must have looked very crest fallen because he said, “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m afraid that I can’t help it. The only way to say something is my way and I haven’t learned anything else.” I think a lot of other people had that experience with him, but he was a wonderful editor.

Anna Marie Skalka, microbiologist, molecular biologist and geneticist is Senior Vice President for Basic Science and director of the Institute for Cancer Research at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. She completed her Ph.D. at New York University Medical School in 1964 and came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to continue her graduate work on bacteriophage under Al Hershey. In 1969 she left for the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology and eventually she turned her attention to retroviruses.

At Fox Chase Medical Center, Skalka studies molecular aspects of retroviral replication and hopes to uncover mechanisms of retroviral DNA integration. She has become interested in virally coded integrase, which catalyzes the integration of retroviral DNA into the host cell’s genome. Considering that stable integration of viral DNA into the host cell genome is essential for replication of retroviruses, her studies are important in developing antiviral drugs to treat AIDS.