Charles N. Cole

Born: October 28, 1946 | New York, NY, US

Charles N. Cole attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pursue his degree. His interest in viruses led him to switch from Harvey F. Lodish's Laboratory to the laboratory of David Baltimore (Cole's research involved the polio virus and the role of defective interfering particles). This oral history also serves to complement CHF's oral history with David Baltimore . 

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


Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0198B
No. of pages: 42

Interview Sessions

Sondra Schlesinger
6 May 1995
St. Louis, Missouri

Abstract of Interview

Charles N. Cole begins his interview by discussing the reasons behind his decision to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Cole's interest in viruses led him to switch from Harvey F. Lodish's Laboratory to the laboratory of David Baltimore. Cole's research involved the polio virus and the role of defective interfering particles. While at Baltimore's lab, reverse transcriptase was discovered. Cole discusses the effect that this discovery had on his polio research. After completing his PhD, Cole decided not to pursue polio research. Cole's time at MIT coincided with rising political activism. Cole discusses his anti-war activities, his arrest for disorderly conduct, the resulting trials, and his decision to live communally. Cole concludes the interview with some thoughts about working with David Baltimore and his skill as a writer and lecturer. Joint interview with Inder Verma.  Inder Verma begins his interview by discussing how he came to join David Baltimore's Laboratory. Verma, who was at the Weizmann Institute of Science, was convinced to move to MIT and join Baltimore's Lab by Bob Weinberg. When Verma first arrived, Baltimore was away teaching in Taiwan. Verma discusses his early research on reverse transcriptase and RNA, and his attempts to establish himself with his co-workers in the lab. Verma discusses his interaction with Baltimore and his impressions of Baltimore's skills as a scientist and lecturer. Verma provides an alternate view to some of the political turmoil that Charles N. Cole discusses in his interview. As a foreign student, Verma had a different opinion of the Vietnam War and the anti-war demonstrations. Verma concludes his interview with some thoughts about his research and the it's impact on cancer research. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1968 Oberlin College AB Chemistry
1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Cell Biology

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1972 to 1973

Yale University School of Medicine

1977 to 1983
Assistant Professor of Human Genetics

Dartmouth Medical School

1983 to 1988
Associate, Professor of Biochemistry
1984 to 1995
Director, Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Norris Cotton Cancer Center of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
1986 to 1997
Co-Chair, Molecular Genetics Center, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School
1988 to 1997
Professor of Biochemistry
Co-director, Program in Molecular Therapeutics, Norris Cotton Cancer Center of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
2000 to 2017
Professor of Genetics


Year(s) Award
1969 to 1972

Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Science Foundation

1974 to 1977

Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship


National Institute for Medical Research Fellowship, Royal Society of the United Kingdom, Mill Hill, London, UK

Table of Contents

Charles N. Cole Interview

Decision to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Influence of Herman Lichtstein. Moving from Harvey F. Lodish's lab to David Baltimore's Laboratory. Defective interfering (DI) particles of the polio virus. David Baltimore's Lab in 1969. Alice Huang. Vesticular Stomatitis Virus (VSV). Mike Jacobson.

Polio Research

Major discussions in the lab. Discovering how defective particles play a role. Influence of David Baltimore. Reverse transcriptase. nderstanding the strategy of the viral genome. VSV enzyme discovery. Inder Verma's work. cDNAs. Effect of reverse transcriptase on polio work. Polyadenlated message.

Political Activities

Living with Elizabeth Cole. Student Action Coordinating Committee and MIT weapons labs. Process of radicalization and participation in demonstrations. Black Panther Party, Chicago Seven, and Yippies. Vietnam War and President Richard M. Nixon. Altercation and arrest for disorderly conduct. Jon Kabat. The Grateful Dead. Kent State shootings and shut down of lab. Trials. Salvadore E. Luria's and David Baltimore's testimony. West Newton, Massachusetts, commune.

Completing the PhD

Work with DI particles. Competition amongst projects. Work after MIT. Switch away from polio research. David Baltimore's skill as a lecturer and writer. Sol Spiegelmann.

Inder Verma Interview

Weizmann Institute of Science. Bob Weinberg. Acceptance into David Baltimore's Lab. Nobel Prize. Martha Stampfer and the Association for Women in Science. Reverse transcription. Globin RNA. Sharing authorship with David Baltimore. Haim Aviv.

Research at MIT

Atmosphere at MIT. Patenting in biology. David Baltimore's and others' work in the lab. Retrovirus group. Salk Institute. Peter Vogt's lab and chicken cells. Ts mutants. Cancer Center. Moving to the Salk Institute in 1974.

Reflections on Time in David Baltimore's Laboratory

Nature of interactions with Baltimore. Influence of Hung Fan and Bob Weinberg. Thoughts on the Vietnam War. Reflections on reverse transcriptase. Cancer research.


About the Interviewer

Sondra Schlesinger

Sondra Schlesinger is professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine. She received her PhD in biological chemistry from the University of Michigan and spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Boris Magasanik at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she worked on enzyme induction and regulation in bacteria. She joined the faculty at Washington University in 1964, where initially she continued her research in the field of microbial genetics and physiology. In the early 1970s, she began her research work on the structure and replication of animal RNA viruses, which continues to this day. Dr. Schlesinger has over one hundred publications spanning these areas of microbiology. She was president of the American Society for Virology in 1992–1993, at which time she began her present interest and work in the history of virology.