They like me; they like me; they really really like me!

So to a worm party in Cambridge, where almost all the people I wrote about have gathered for a 25th anniversary bash. Sydney Brenner was there, and Sulston, of course, and Bob Waterston, Phil Anderson, Judith Kimble, John White. Some people I hadn’t met, among them Cynthia Kenyon, who said “Ah yes, I’m reviewing your book for Nature”. Bit of a conversation stopper, that.

Most of the people in it were really pretty happy with what I had done. Sydney said “There were some errors of fact. I found 24.” I asked which ones. He said, “Jonathan Hodgkin remembers what they are.” I said that I thought 24 was a pass mark. Then he said that he had gone out and bought the Darwin Wars, which he thought a better book and had much enjoyed.

So I wandered upstairs with Barbara Meyer and Phil Anderson and some other people to the labs where it had all started. They took me to the historic coffee room, and to the bench where Sydney and Muriel Rigby had isolated the very first mutants. Then we found the notebook in which this discovery was recorded. That was the most moving thing of all. One wall was taken up with bound volumes of Nature and Science (one of the 1953 volumes of Nature of course was missing: that’s the one with the DNA paper in it). Then, at the end of this row, about three feet of shelving, from floor to ceiling, was entirely stuffed with dark blue plastic A4 ring binders.

In these were recorded nearly a decade of patient work mutating worms. We pulled down the number one, and there, solemnly recorded, was the discovery of E1, the first mutant identified after Brenner had learnt to use EMS as a mutagen on worms; it had previously been used, I think, on e.coli. From this stemmed eight years of work which did not result in the publication of a single paper. In the end, Brenner published the details of over 100 mutations they had identified all in one go.

Finding those notebooks stacked there was a bit like finding Michaelangelo’s working drawings stuck in a cupboard in the sistine chapel. I think, everyone keeps their notebooks. I know that Bob Horvitz still has in his office at MIT the ones in which he recorded the development of the worm. It’s different, though, to find them in the building where the work was done, and in the very room where the results would be announced and boasted over.

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1 Response to They like me; they like me; they really really like me!

  1. Rupert says:

    Bit Confused of Holloway writes: dem links are a little mussed, although in context it’s the act of a churl to point it out.

    Does this mean you’ll hold back on the “Why am I such a waste of pixels, that inbetween earning the respect of the finest minds of the worm world and filling the pages of serious journals with excellent prose about God, the flesh and the devil, I am weak-willed enough to dabble in mere programming” stuff?

    If so, I can only hope you go to more parties.

    And what happened to that expensive fish story?


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