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.


Early days at Merck


First encounter with microbiology
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

When I was discharged I went back to Penn and was uncertain as to what I wanted to major in. I decided that when I was forced to choose my major, I had just started a course – I think I had been part way through it – in microbiology, and that was fascinating. Also... that also perked me up when on the first day of that course, during the laboratory, we had a laboratory experiment, a laboratory that was associated with the lecturing, a laboratory assistant, a girl, walked in with a tray and on the tray were test tubes. Of course I knew by then... I knew what test tubes were, but what I didn't know was that in those test tubes were what we call slants, which means that the test tube is slanted on a surface with one end raised about 15 degrees into which one pours molten agar, which is like... which is a gelatine. And after the gelatine sets the tube can be then set on its end so that that slanted surface remains covering along half the wall of the test tube. And then the agar is streaked with a fine needle with some micro... some bacterial organism. And usually the streaking is done in a wave fashion so that you laid down a wave of individual microorganisms, which of course you cannot see at that point. Then you put this business in an incubator at body temperature and within a day or a few days you get the microorganisms growing. And what she had brought in on that tray were about 30 or 40 of these slanted test tubes on which were wavy patterns of microorganisms with different colours, brilliant colours – red, yellow, brilliant white, green – and that, for some reason or other, triggered my... my fascination with 'what that was all about.' Of course I knew nothing about that at the time.

And because of that experience I settled on microbiology as my major in... at the University of Pennsylvania. Took a lot of courses in microbiology, biochemistry, single cell animals, amoeba, parasitology, and of course I took all of the other courses that were required for a rounded education in history and arts and language, etc. Graduated and because by this time I had caught the eye of the professor of microbiology, he found a job that he thought I would be interested in at a company called Sharp and Dohme in... right outside of Philadelphia.

So I decided to take that job, because it was working with bacteria. And I also knew at the time, before even taking the job, that Sharp and Dohme had just been acquired by Merck, of course a giant pharmaceutical company, and that I would soon be moving from that location outside of south west Philadelphia, to a point north of Philadelphia, called North Wales, but I took the job understanding that.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: University of Pennsylvania, Sharp and Dohme, Merck, Philadelphia

Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012