Interview, October 2017
“The key fourth awardee here is, as some of us call them, the little fly”
Telephone interview with Jeffrey C. Hall following the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2 October 2017. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media. Jeffrey C. Hall praises the role of the humble fruit fly in this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Transcript of the interview
[Jeffrey C. Hall]: Hello.
[Adam Smith]: Hello, my name’s Adam Smith. I’m calling from Nobelprize.org, the website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm. Many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
JH: Well thank you.
AS: Where am I calling you? You’re in Maine, is that …
JH: You’ve reached me where I’ve lived for many years in the middle of nowhere, Maine, rural Maine. Also known as Central Maine. In the extreme north east of this great country of ours.
AS: Sounds a beautiful place to be located.
JH: It is physically beautiful, including, I’m looking out the window, it’s a very beautiful day today, which is often is.
AS: Fall colours and the like I guess.
JH: Not quite yet but it’s still green as can be but it’s, because Maine is not like Arizona.
AS: You’re being awarded today for unravelling the mechanisms of the circadian rhythm.
JH: Yes, correct. That was about half of our work, during my time when I was employed, had to do with circadian rhythms, indeed. That became amongst our most well-known research achievements, if any. Usually, and, relentlessly co-authored with Rosbash with whom you’ve already spoken. So he and I joined forces in the early mid-eighties and imagined that we might, or we might not as the case may be, go onward and upward doing research together in that arena. Which often involved crucially, what I call AIs – actual investigators – like students, post-doctoral supervisees, from the two labs working very closely together, even day by day. So that was enjoyable, it wasn’t that either lab was way out on its own limb. We had a lot of mutual support, I think it’s fair to say.
AS: You obviously had a very special working relationship, there was something magical about the team.
JH: This was based in large part on becoming close personally at the beginning where our research interests in very general terms were in genetics, writ large. It was only after six, seven, or eight years that we started to work things together and imagine that possibly our backgrounds and our skills, if any, might be complementary. The key reason that we got into that kind of relationship was because we were personally close. We had mutual interest in low culture stuff like sports and rock and roll music and abusable substances and stuff. And so we spent a lot of time just carousing or sitting together in misery at local sports stadiums. We have also certain, many similar interests, even in the pre-rhythm research days. He as a molecular geneticist, I as a straight up fruit fly geneticist.
AS: And that brings us onto flies. We should say a word for flies on this day of all days because once again the power of the fly as a model organism has been demonstrated.
JH: That’s right, this is something I’ve always … I was taught when I was a graduate student about a phrase, it’s known as the lore of Drosophila. To know about the deep history going all the way back to the 1920s, and the 40s and the 90s and now the second decade of the current century. It’s just one of a zillion examples of how basic research on a supposedly irrelevant organism can have broader significance than, with regard to what’s going on in terms of that organism itself. And this has been true of fruit fly research, which has been a major contributor for decades. For well over a century actually.
AS: Well let’s dedicate this day to the fly.
JH: Yeah, the key fourth awardee here is, as some of us call them, the little fly. So the little flies deserve another tip of the hat, I think, in terms of what has happened today.
AS: That’s lovely. Indeed they do. And it’s been such a pleasure speaking to you. I’m very much looking forward to meeting you. Will you be coming to Stockholm in December?
JH: Yes I will, I think I almost have to. But I’m willing to.
JH: I was in Sweden once in my time, back in the time when Swedish folk drove on the left-hand side of the roadway. So I’m looking forward to going back to Stockholm where I once was, in 1967.
AS: We very much look forward to meeting you, thank you. Bye.
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The 2017 Nobel Laureates met at the Grünewald Hall in the Stockholm Concert Hall in Stockholm for the traditional round-table discussion and TV program ‘Nobel Minds’. The discussion was hosted by the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi.
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.