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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1993:   DNA & Chromosomes, Vol. LVIII

Organizer: Bruce Stillman, Bruce Alberts

Table of Contents

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1993 was a great year. It could hardly be otherwise, marking the 40th anniversary of the DNA double helix, and the Symposium was a great celebration of science and the joys of doing science. The opening evening began with celebratory talks by Francois Jacob and Sydney Brenner, two whose names reappear again and again in the Symposia volumes during the golden age of molecular genetics. And to honor his 65th birthday and his new position as President of the Laboratory, Jim Watson was presented with a 15-foot high bronze model of the double helix, crafted by Charles Reina, a local sculptor. It stands in the lobby of Grace Auditorium, a fitting reminder of Jim’s great contributions to science.

The theme of the 1993 Symposium–DNA and Chromosomes–goes back 52 years to the Symposium on Genes and Chromosomes: Structure and Organization, although in 1941 DNA hardly was mentioned. Then, before Avery, Macleod and McCarty, it was thought of, if at all, as a structural component of chromosomes and nothing to do with their role in heredity. Hal Weintraub noted in his masterly closing remarks that while most meetings provide a perspective on a field from year to year, the Symposia give an opportunity to look over decades. (Tragically, Hal died just two years later.) He did not go back to 1941 but did begin his discussion with references to the summary by Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod in the 1962 Symposium and to their ideas on regulatory circuits. Now we have a panoply of regulatory elements at the DNA level, combined with regulation at the chromatin level through nucleosomes and histones. Another major theme of the 1993 meeting was on DNA-binding proteins, now being analyses at the

atomic level by X-ray crystallography.

An historical highlight of the meeting was Jacob’s discussion of the origin of the “replicon.” He told of the Brenner and Jacob families sitting on the beach at La Tranche-sur-Mer; or, rather, Francois and Sydney sat on the beach amidst a maelstrom of eight children, four from each family. “Little by little, talking and drawing with a finger in the sand”, they devised the replicon model.

The genome projects were just a few years old but the first interesting data were coming out on the benefits of large-scale sequence. Lee Hood, for example, described their detailed analysis of several hundred kilobases of sequence from the human and mouse T-cell-receptor loci. But the most impressive numbers came from Bob Waterston and the C. elegans genome project. Here more than 2 Mb had been sequenced–a huge amount for 1993–in two greater than 1 Mb contigs, separated by only a few gaps. Weintraub was impressed by the quality of the genome work, remarking that some of the “...unexpected benefits that the proponents predicted” were already apparent.

Jan A. Witkowski

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