Traversing the RNA worldAn invitation to write a “Reflections” type of article creates a certain ambivalence: it is a great honor, but it also infers the end of your professional career. Before you vanish for good, your colleagues look forward to an interesting but entertaining account of the ups-and-downs of your past research and your views on science in general, peppered with indiscrete anecdotes about your former competitors and collaborators. What follows will disappoint those who await complaint and criticism, for example, about the difficulties of doing research in the 1960s and 1970s in Eastern Europe, or those seeking very personal revelations.
By Ribosome PossessedI'll play it, and tell you what it is later.—Miles Davis
Joys and Surprises of a Career Studying Eukaryotic Gene ExpressionIn this Reflections, I review a few early and very lucky events that gave me a running start for the rest of a long and wonderfully enjoyable career. For the main part, a discussion is provided of what I recall as the main illuminating results that my many dozens of students and postdoctoral fellows (approximately 140 in all) provided to our biochemical/molecular biological world.
Fifty Years Excitement with Science: Recollections with and without tRNAI was born on April 2, 1942 in Strasbourg in the sad time when Alsace was occupied and ruled by Hitler's Nazis. Like many in Alsace, my father, who was in the French Army in 1939, became a malgré-nous during Nazi occupation and was forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht in 1943. This was retaliation for refusing to wear the German uniform of railway employees while working at his stationmaster job near Strasbourg. He was quickly sent to the front in Russia and killed near Minsk in January 1944.
The Chemical Synthesis of DNA/RNA: Our Gift to ScienceIt is a great privilege to contribute to the Reflections essays. In my particular case, this essay has allowed me to weave some of my major scientific contributions into a tapestry held together by what I have learned from three colleagues (Robert Letsinger, Gobind Khorana, and George Rathmann) who molded my career at every important junction. To these individuals, I remain eternally grateful, as they always led by example and showed many of us how to break new ground in both science and biotechnology.
Life in a Three-dimensional GridThere have been two sharp demarcations in my life in science: the transition from fine arts to chemistry, which happened early in my career, and the move from New York to Stanford University, which initiated an ongoing collaboration with the physicist Harley McAdams. Both had a profound effect on the kinds of questions I posed and the means I used to arrive at answers. The outcome of these experiences, together with the extraordinary scientists I came to know along the way, was and is an abiding passion to fully understand a simple cell in all its complexity and beauty.
Neutrons, Magnets, and Photons: A Career in Structural BiologyThe purpose of Reflections articles, it seems, is to give elderly scientists a chance to write about the “good old days,” when everyone walked to school in the snow. They enjoy this activity so much that your editor, Martha Fedor, must have known that I would accept her invitation to write such an article, no matter how much I demurred at first. As everyone knows, flattery will get you everywhere. It may comfort the apprehensive reader to learn that there is not going to be much walking to school in the snow in this story.