Alison E. M. Adams

Born: November 19, 1955 | Penang, MY
Alison E. M. Adams

Alison E. M. Adams

Alison E. M. Adams attended Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied genetics and spent a semester in John Pringle’s lab at the University of Michigan. Next, she returned to the United States and to Pringle’s lab, researching Saccharomyces cerevisiae. After finishing her PhD she ended up at David Botstein’s lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then went with him to Genentech, where she discovered that fimbrim isoforms can compensate for Sac6. This work inspired her research at the University of Arizona, where she established her own lab and shifted toward biochemistry. Adams plans to take a sabbatical to pursue research for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and teach in India. She discusses her role in science, scientific cooperation, and perspective on the future of mankind.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0425
No. of pages: 108
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
12-14 February 1996
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Abstract of Interview

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.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1978 Trinity College Dublin BA
1984 University of Michigan PhD

Professional Experience

University of Edinburgh

1985
Postdoctoral Fellow

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1986 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Arizona

1990 to 1996
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
1996 to 2016
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1980 to 1984

Literature, Science, and Arts Award, University of Michigan

1982 to 1983

Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies Predoctoral Fellowship, University of Michigan

1982 to 1983

Edwin H. Edwards Award, University of Michigan

1983 to 1984

Cancer Research Institute Predoctoral Fellowship, University of Michigan

1986 to 1989

Life Sciences Research Foundation Award

1991

Junior Career Recognition Award, Women in Cell Biology

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Birth in Malaysia. Family background. School. Growing up in small towns. Decision to attend the University of Dublin.

College Years
16

Starting in chemistry; switching to genetics. College life. Semester at the University of Michigan in John Pringle’s lab. Differences between Irish and U.S. labs.

Graduate School Years
24

Returning to the University of Michigan. Living abroad. Working with John Pringle. Value in researching Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Absence of recombinant DNA metholodology in research. Yeast geneticists’ collaborative ethos. Research in the Pringle lab. Developing immunofluorescence techniquesfor visualizing cytoskeletal elements in yeast. Collaborating with Barbara Sloat and John V. Kilmartin.

Postgraduate Years
39

Research at University of Edinburgh. Attempt to work in John Kilmartin’s lab. Arranging second postdoc with David Botstein. Uncovering scientific fraud.

Move to the United States
47

Moving to David Botstein's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Botstein’s move to Genentech. Receiving the Life Sciences Research Foundation Award. Living in Boston. Discovery of Sac6. Collaborating with David Drubin. Fimbrin's similarities to Sac6.

Adams's Lab at the University of Arizona
56

Reasons for choosing the University of Arizona. Sharing a lab with Roy Parker and Ted Weinert. Teaching experiences. Life in Tucson. Shift toward biochemistry in the lab. Working on the crystal structure of of Sac6 with William Montfort. Applying yeast studies to humans. Investigating functional redundancy in proteins. The problem of working with nonisogenetic strains. Identification of the crystal structure of actin.

Being a Scientist
78

Adams’s evolving interests. Funding. Thoughts on science education. Working for industry. Journal reviews. Attending conferences. The value of molecular biology. Lab and research safety. Women in science.

Index
105

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak