Gregory S. Payne

Born: July 14, 1953 | San Francisco, CA, US

Gregory S. Payne was born in San Francisco and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he initially studied theater, and got a job at a lab to make money, starting as a dishwasher but later assisting in preparations for research. He changed his major from theater to biology and decided to go to graduate school. He attended the University of California, San Francisco, then went on to a postdoctoral position with Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley. He took a reverse genetics approach, used antibodies to identify clathrin, and discovered that knocking out the clathrin gene did not kill cells. Finally, he started his own lab at UCLA, researching proteins involved in cell transport. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0573
No. of pages: 113
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Neil D. Hathaway
12, 22, 27 September and 16 November 1992
University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

Abstract of Interview

Gregory S. Payne was born in San Francisco, California, but was raised, after a brief stint in Silver Spring, Maryland, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the oldest of three siblings. Both of his parents were scientists: his mother had a PhD in physiology, though took time off to raise her children before returning to a professorship in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and of Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan; his father received his MD, then went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to study viruses and to the University of Michigan for postdoctoral work with Thomas Francis, Jr. , before accepting a position in the Department of Epidemiology at the university. Excepting the loss of one of his sisters to leukemia, Payne had what he considered a relatively normal childhood, playing with friends, and playing hockey, tennis, and the violin. Payne's parents insisted that he have a well-rounded education; he rarely went to his parents' labs. He entered the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and took part in an experimental program there called the Residential College. He took all the classes he needed for a degree in biochemistry but he concentrated almost exclusively on theater, particularly by his third year. Under the auspices of writing a senior thesis, Payne went to New York to study theater and then returned to Ann Arbor to look for positions in local theater companies. When nothing came from his search, he decided to get a job at a lab to make some money. He started as a dishwasher, but then was allowed to assist in making preparations for research into the movement of amino acids from the outside to the inside of the cell, specifically growing tumors in mice. He changed his major from theater to biology and decided to go to graduate school. He matriculated at the University of California, San Francisco in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and did a rotation hybridizing nucleic acids in John D. Baxter's lab, but then moved on to work with Harold E. Varmus and J. Michael Bishop studying RNA tumor viruses, specifically looking at how Rous-associated virus causes tumors. While there he collaborated with chicken geneticist Lyman B. Crittenden and experienced the lab's adoption of Edward M. Southern's blotting technique and other recombinant DNA technologies. From San Francisco Payne went on to a postdoctoral position with Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley, trying to recreate in the test tube the process of transporting a protein from the Golgi apparatus to the vacuole, also developing an interest in clathrin's role in the secretory process. He took a reverse genetics approach, used antibodies to identify clathrin, and discovered that knocking out the clathrin gene did not kill cells, disputing successfully Sandra K. Lemmon and Elizabeth W. Jones's work. He then left Berkeley to start his own lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, researching proteins involved in cell transport. The interview concludes with his thoughts on the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant and the importance of flexible funds; his collaboration with Frances M. Brodsky (Pew Scholar Class of 1988); overcoming skepticism about the significance of yeast analogies; how creative scientists identify the most promising approach and organism to solve a problem; and the relevance of research. At the end of the interview, Payne talks about becoming a principal investigator and a teacher; training his investigators to withstand criticism; the importance of basic science research; the value of competition in science; his mother's career as a scientist. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 University of Michigan BS Cell Biology with honors in Drama
1982 University of California, San Francisco PhD Biochemistry

Professional Experience

University of California, Berkeley

1982 to 1987
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry

University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine

1987 to 1992
Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1971 to 1972

Regents Scholarship, University of Michigan

1977 to 1978

Regents Scholarship, University of California

1982 to 1985

Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research

1982 to 1985

American Cancer Society, California division

1988 to 1992

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years, College, and Graduate School
1

Having scientists for parents. Attends the University of Michigan's experimental Residential College. Parents' backgrounds. Being a homemaker delays his mother's scientific career. Sisters. Attends public high school. Leaves college to work for an experimental theater company in New York City. Interest in theater. Student rebellion in the early 1970s. Takes a job washing glassware in a lab and becomes involved in experiments growing tumors in mice. Changes major from theater to biology. Enters graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Hybridizing nucleic acids in John D. Baxter's lab. Works with Harold E. Varmus and J. MichaelBishop studying RNA tumor viruses. Decides to write thesis on howRous-associated virus causes tumors. Collaborating with chicken geneticist Lyman B. Crittenden. Edward M. Southern's blotting technique. Using recombinant DNA technology.

More on Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
25

The advent of reverse transcriptase research. Avian leukosis study. Determining whether tumors are clonally derived or multiclonal. Trying to discover what causes tumors by cloning junction fragments into bacterial vectors. Analyzing RNA in the tumors. How the William S. Hayward lab at Rockefeller University discovered that viral RNA hybridized to a probe derived from the myc oncogene. Promoter-insertion model. Role of viral enhancers. Debating how enhancers Function. Identifying oncogenes in other tumors. Productive interaction of graduate students and postdocs in the Varmus and Bishop lab. Different styles of lab management. Colleagues' contributions to his early papers. Shifts to studying the role of clathrin in yeast cells. Works as a postdoc in Randy Schekman's lab at University of California, Berkeley. Trying to recreate in the test tube the process of transporting a protein from the Golgi apparatus to the vacuole. Develops an interest in clathrin's role in the secretory process. Taking a reverse genetics approach. Uses antibodies to identify clathrin. Discovers that knocking out the clathrin gene does not kill cells. Controversy surrounding the discovery. Sandra K. Lemmon and Elizabeth W. Jones. Studying cell adaptation.

Thoughts About Science and Faculty Years
57

Varmus and Bishop's Nobel Prize-winning research. Difficulty of attributing credit for scientific discoveries. Using the disruption process in cell biology. Observation that elimination of clathrin heavy chain interferes with cell mating. Studying the a-factor precursor in clathrin-deficient cells. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant. Importance of flexible funds. Collaborates with Frances M. Brodsky. Function of associated proteins. Analogies between yeast cells and mammalian cells. Structural conservation. Overcoming skepticism about the significance of yeast analogies. How creative scientists identify the most promising approach and organism to solve a problem. Relevance of research. Becomes a principal investigator and teacher. Encouraging more ethnic minority and women students to become scientists. Training his investigators to withstand criticism. Importance of basic science research. Funding sources.

Reflections on Science
92

Value of competition in science. Efforts at collaboration. Opportunities for less competitive scientists. How functional redundancy affects knockout experiments. Future course of gene knockout research. Mother's career as a scientist.

Index
110

About the Interviewer

Neil D. Hathaway