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But for Paul Doty…..

We have lost a pioneer of molecular biology and a larger-than-life player on the world stage.  Paul Doty has died at the age of 91.  Douglas Martin’s article in the New York Times hits the high notes.  Here I would like to add a few personal memories and thoughts about Paul along with his link to the origin of the CSSI.  Professor Doty’s 1960 paper describing some remarkable physical properties of double helical DNA that we know today by the heading nucleic acid hybridization and an even more remarkable property known today as specific recombination was required reading by graduate students in biochemistry and molecular biology when I was a graduate student.  Now this information is taught in high schools as part of the molecular basis of life.  (Strand Separation and Specific Recombination in Deoxyribonucleic Acids: Physical Chemical Studies. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 46:461-476 (1060). (Photo, Paul Doty in 1960, Harvard University Archives)

Several of the original members of the CSSI studied in the department founded at Harvard by Paul Doty.  In the words of Rick Morimoto, “I had the good pleasure to work with Paul and Helga and published a paper with them (Wozney, J., D. Hanahan, R.I. Morimoto, H. Boedtker and P. Doty.  Fine Structural Analyses of the Chicken pro a2 Collagen Gene.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 78, 712-716 (1981).  I would wander frequently to the Doty tearoom at Harvard as they seemed to have better cookies. Moreover, to have Helga and Paul hold court was special as through him and Matt Meselson, I was exposed to the world of the scientist-public citizen.  At that point in his career, Paul was deeply interested in world policy issues on disarmament and to hear him expound on this and other topics was inspiring.”  Indeed, Paul Doty founded the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard at about this time.  He also facilitated relations among U.S. and Soviet scientists during the cold war and he was credited with contributing to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in 1972.

Professor Doty was a visionary.  He came to Harvard in 1948 as a chemist with an interest in polymers.  He would later apply the basic chemical and physical principles of polymers to the molecules of life, both nucleic acids and proteins.  Paul Doty was instrumental in recruiting Professor  Matthew Meselson, who was also a mentor to Susan Lindquist and in whose lab she carried out her pioneering work on heat shock RNA.  Paul helped me establish my graduate study at Harvard during the very difficult year of 1968.  Not only did I learn the physical and biological properties of DNA from Professor Doty, but he took the extra time and effort to write a letter for me in an effort to hold off my draft board long enough to allow me to finish my first semester.  I decided then and there that if I survived Vietnam, I would come back to his department to restart my life as a scientist.  He was one of those faculty members whose influence can be life-changing.  I did return and earned my degree.  When I set up my own laboratory at the University of Connecticut, I requested and received from Paul’s wife Helga Boedtker a cDNA probe for a chicken procollagen gene that was very useful to my graduate student Ivone Takenaka (Takenaka, I.M., and L.E. Hightower.  1993.  Regulation of chicken Hsp70 and Hsp90 family gene expression by Transforming Growth Factor-b1.  J. Cell. Physiol., 155:54-62). It was the same gene that Rick Morimoto helped characterize.

Paul Doty also recruited James Watson to Harvard and this is where the history holds additional interest for our field and professional society. Actually this happened earlier than described in the New York Times article.  Professor Doty and several colleagues were successful in forming the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry in 1954-55.  James Watson was recruited in 1956 to establish molecular biology.

Watson invited Alfred Tissières to spend time in his laboratory as a visiting scientist, the same Alfred who later discovered the Drosophila heat shock proteins in 1974.  When colleagues studying heat shock genes and proteins decided to organize the first international meeting, it was Alfred who went to his old friend and mentor Jim Watson, then Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, to make the case for a meeting at this prestigious laboratory.  It was not a given that the Director would agree, because at the time, many scientists still considered the heat shock response at best a curiosity of Drosophila biology and at worst a laboratory artifact.  But Alfred was convincing and the first of many meeting in an ongoing series was held at Cold Spring Harbor in 1982.

Without Paul Doty then, the meeting that galvanized the field of cellular stress responses arguably would not have taken place. Later, scientists from around the world who had met each other at the Cold Spring Harbor heat shock meetings to become friends, colleagues and collaborators joined together to form the editorial board of Cell Stress & Chaperones journal in 1995. Indeed, the first meeting of the editorial board was held at Cold Spring Harbor the following year.  Several years later in 1999, the organizing meeting for the Cell Stress Society International was held in Grace Auditorium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  It is very doubtful that this chain of events would have occurred without the nucleating link laid down by Paul Doty at Harvard.  (source material:  A History of Biochemistry at Harvard College by Professor Guido Guidotti).