Oral Presentation Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016

Allan Wilson as I Knew Him (#266)

James A. Lake 1
  1. UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, United States

          Allan Wilson was a complex but brilliant person.  I don't recall when I first met him, but it was probably in about 1986 at a conference on evolutionary biology held during a heat wave in Northern Sweden.  I still remember when Alan introduced the audience to PCR by sequencing a small region of about 30 nucleotides from 20 different kangaroo rats. It was immediately clear that restriction fragment analyses were a thing of the past and that his lab had begun a new gene sequencing era.

          In 1989 Allan's lab published a now famous paper using PCR on '..the extinct marsupial wolf". That paper led Michael Crichton to publish "Jurassic Park", after a brief "sabbatical" in Allan's lab.  Living in Los Angeles, it happened that one of our best friends was the Unit Production Manager for Jurassic Park and I learned a lot about the adventures that happened during its filming - much of which I'll tell you.

          My wife and I also got to know Allan and his wife pretty well. We spent a week with him at a rented beach house in Pajaro Dunes.  We played tennis, walked on the beach and talked scientific politics.  He had a tremendous insight into scientific politics, and I'll talk about some of these. Among other things he helped me organize the first UCLA Winter Sloan Schools on Molecular Evolution. This school trained the first generation of molecular evolutionary biologists. Allan and I served on the initial Evolutionary Biology Board of the Sloan Foundation and we had great fun in shaping this new field, until Allan's death in 1991. Allan was a major supporter of the field of Molecular Evolution.