a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Abandoning botany


Wanting to have my own project at the Academy
Jan Klein Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

From 1958 through 1961, for three years I was a teacher at a gymnasium. I then applied for the position at the Academy and I was accepted. I didn't have much choice of the advisor. That was more or less assigned to me, but it was all right with me, I had no problem with it. I... this was an institute of plant genetics or physiology, and it was therefore botany, which I wanted. And the project, or the lab, where I was going to work worked on chemical taxonomy one could call it. It was an old method that was developed actually at the beginning of the last century and then used by many scientists who classified plants. But then it was abandoned and this man who was in charge of the laboratory revived it and was using it. The... the principle was very simple. You took some plant tissues, made an extract of it, and then injected it into rabbits. The rabbit produced antibodies against various proteins in the extract, and that was then used by various methods to precipitate the proteins and compare them since the antibodies were rather specific, but they cross-reacted with related proteins. Not exactly the same proteins, but related proteins of another species. On that basis you could classify who is closely related to one... which species is closer related to another. So it was interesting for me and I was happy to join the laboratory, and for a while it worked all right.

I, among other things, learned how to pollinate plants, how to make hybrids the way Mendel used to do many years ago, and other things. But I became impatient. I wanted to have my own project. I want... I lost three years of... on teaching and I wanted to catch up. I was getting older and I wanted to have a position... have a project on which I could work myself. But the advisor kept evading my approaches and I... I couldn't get a straight answer from him. I asked others and they said, well it's very simple. He doesn't have the approbation for it. He cannot have a student like you. So he still has to pass some... to get a doctorate or... it was doctor of science in... at that time. And he didn't have it, and it looked like he was going... it was going to take two, three years before he would get it. So I went to him and I said, 'Look under these circumstances if that's the case I cannot work here because that's... I cannot wait that long'. And he got very upset and said, 'If you are not going to work here, I make sure that you don't get a position somewhere else'. Well, I didn't know what to do. But then the friends again said, well the best thing if... if you want to stay in the Academy, the best thing would be to go to the Institute of Experimental Biology and Genetics, which was downstairs where the plant physiology was located, and speak to Milan Hašek, who was the professor who was the head of... of that institute. He might be the only person who will go against a recommendation of somebody in the Academy already. So I did. I had an interview with Hašek and I explained to him my situation. Oh he just said, 'I don't care about these things', and wanted to know what I was doing and what my interests were and, and so on. And in the end he said, 'Okay, if you want you can work here'. Just as simple as that. Not like people say, well we will let you know or we will think about it and then so on. He decided and I think one of the reasons was very simple because when I stood up and we shook hands he was almost as tall as I. And he said, well, I need someone that I can look straight in the eyes in my institute.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Institute of Experimental Biology and Genetics, Milan Hašek, Gregor Johann Mendel

Duration: 5 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008