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The brilliant JBS Haldane


A memorable meal
John Bonner Scientist
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I was asked to come to University College to give some lectures and very excited about it because I was quite a young man. And so I went to there, and was taken care of by all sorts of people who were to me, were only names of wonder that were… people like the person who works with octopuses.

[Q] JZ Young.

Yes, that's right, and many others. And I just had a most wonderful time visiting with them all in the lab and so forth. And all of them came to my lectures, which was somewhat frightening. And after the first… in the first lecture, no, right after it where we were all going to the men's room, suddenly as I was by the urinal, there was this great shadow behind me and a voice came with it and he said, 'Bonner', he said, 'we don't make jokes in lectures in this country'. And I knew the style of putdown. So I said, 'Those weren't jokes. I was just nervous'. And as a result of that, I don't know if that's true, but we got along famously from then on.

And they wanted to take me to dinner at a restaurant and so Bill Billingham, who's there with Medawar said, 'Let me give you some information about what that dinner's going to be like'. He said, 'You'll go to a place with very good food, a small restaurant in Soho somewhere'. And he said, 'And it will get into an argument. It will probably be about something like sex', which it was. All of this turned out to be true. 'And their voices will get louder and louder and you'll notice finally everybody in the room looking at your table'. And he said, 'But don't let it bother you. Just keep eating as though everything were normal'. Turned out to be very good advice. I might have been somewhat shaken if I hadn't had it.

John Tyler Bonner (born in 1920) is an emeritus professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He is a pioneer in the use of cellular slime molds to understand evolution and development and is one of the world's leading experts on cellular slime molds. He says that his prime interests are in evolution and development and that he uses the cellular slime molds as a tool to seek an understanding of those twin disciplines. He has written several books on developmental biology and evolution, many scientific papers, and has produced a number of works in biology. He has led the way in making Dictyostelium discoideum a model organism central to examining some of the major questions in experimental biology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Rupert Billingham, Peter Medawar

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2016

Date story went live: 14 September 2016