1974: Tumor Viruses, Vol. XXXIX
Organizer: James Watson
In 1974, Jim Watson was still dividing his time between his jobs as a professor at Harvard and director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, but he had already impressed his stamp on the Laboratory. He had
become interested in cancer in the mid-1960s, even including a
chapter on cancer in the first edition of Molecular Biology of
the Gene (1965). As a genetic approach to human cancer was impossible–the
genetic tools were inadequate at that time–Watson devoted
the chapter to what might be learned from tumor viruses such as
polyoma and Rous sarcoma viruses. It is not surprising, then,
that the first major project Watson instituted at Cold Spring
Harbor was on tumor viruses, with Joe Sambrook as the lead scientist.
And it is not surprising that Tumor Viruses was among the early
topics that Watson chose for a Symposium.
In his introductory remarks, Renato Dulbecco, who had made significant
contributions to virology through developing cell culture systems,
surveyed the progress in oncogenic virus research over the past
twelve years, since the last Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on viruses,
Basic Mechanisms in Animal Virus Biology. Dulbecco found that
“...the field has had such a vast development that we must
now concentrate on what in 1962 was a small area of virology”.
The Symposium is interesting as a record of what was known and
thought prior to two great discoveries, both of which, curiously,
came in 1976. Dulbecco discussed viral oncogenes and recognized
that they may cause cancer by two mechanisms–by affecting
a cellular gene through integration in the host cell chromosome
or by a viral gene directly causing transformation. The former
mechanisms was not demonstrated until 1981, but evidence for the
latter had been found recently using temperature sensitive mutants.
Dulbecco then speculated as to the origin of these viral oncogenes
but does not consider that they could be derived from cellular
genes, as shown by Stehlin, Bishop and Varmus.
Later in the meeting, the various Cold Spring Harbor adenovirus
groups presented their studies on adenovirus genome structure
and transcription. Most notably,
Lewis et al. report that the
mRNAs for some adenovirus proteins are much larger than is needed
for the proteins they code for, and Westphal reported similar
findings. These were amongst the first anomalies that indicated
RNA splicing, discovered in 1976 by the groups at MIT and Cold
There was another paper worthy of particular note. Grodzicker
et al. made the first use of restriction endonuclease mapping
and linkage analysis to correlate the physical and genetic maps,
in this case of adenovirus. They remarked that it was a method
“...capable of wide application” but they did not
forsee the part restriction mapping would come to play in analyzing
human genetic disorders.
The Symposium contributed strongly to the Symposium Nobel Laureate
Index. While there was only one current laureate was present–Watson–several
future ones participated: Baltimore, Dulbecco and Temin (1975);
Nathans (1978); Varmus (1989); and Roberts and Sharp (1993).
Dulbecco concluded his opening remarks: “We must remember
what viral oncology was twelve years ago, and how it has changed,
and look at the next twelve years with the same spirit and hope.”
His optimism was well rewarded; within five years there were sufficient
remarkable findings for the 1979 Symposium to be devoted to Viral
— Peter Sherwood