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Oral history interview with Alison E. M. Adams

  • 1996-Feb-12 – 1996-Feb-14
Alison E. M. Adams
Alison E. M. Adams

Alison E. M. Adams was born in Penang, Malaysia, the third of six children. Her parents were British citizens: Her father, a British citizen, had worked for the British government for many years; her mother, also a British citizen, went from England to Malaysia after World War II; there she met and married Bill Adams. When Alison was four, the family moved to a small town, Sherborne, in England; they continued to move among small towns around the area. Although she went to smallish schools that in retrospect she thinks were not very good, Alison liked school, especially the sciences. She played field hockey, continuing into her college years. She also played other sports and took violin and piano lessons.

Her family took several trips to Ireland, which Adams loved so much she decided she wanted to attend college there. She matriculated into Trinity College, Dublin, where she began in chemistry but soon switched to genetics. She spent an undergraduate semester in John Pringle’s lab at the University of Michigan. After finishing at Trinity she came back to the United States, where she again went to Pringle’s lab at the University of Michigan, researching Saccharomyces cerevisiae. After finishing her PhD she went to the University of Edinburgh to do a postdoc, but it did not work out, and she arranged for a postdoc position in David Botstein’s lab at Massachusetts Institutes of Technology; from there she went to Genentech with Botstein. While working in Botstein’s lab, Adams identified the protein Sac6 by means of genetic techniques versus biochemical methods, and discovered that fimbrim isoforms can compensate for Sac6. Adams’s work on the protein Sac6 would be the basis for future research at the University of Arizona, where she established her own lab. While she was teaching at the University of Arizona, Adams’s work shifted toward biochemistry through her collaboration with William R. Montfort on the crystal structure of Sac6 and her interest in applying yeast studies to human beings. Adams plans soon to take a sabbatical to pursue research for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and possibly to teach in India. Adams concludes the interview by illuminating her thoughts about her role in science, her perspective on the future of mankind, and her desire for cooperation among scientists.

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