INTRODUCTION FOR PETER DUESBERG
By Robert C. Gallo
National Cancer Institute, Maryland U.S.A.
"It is time now to introduce my friend Peter Duesberg. Where do
I begin? At NIH, Peter is sometimes known as the battling bulldog. He gets
his teeth into something and 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years later
those teeth are still sunk in it. I should be serious a bit, shouldn't
I? Peter, of course, was born here in Germany. He was educated at Tübingen
and he came to the United States 20 years ago at age of 27. I've known
Peter now for about 15 years. When I first met him, he was already doing
molecular virology, and I was already involved in retroviruses. Peter first
began work on the molecular virology of parainfluenza and influenza viruses.
He was the first to show that parainfluenza had a singular RNA genome and
that influenza had multiple RNA's. This was the first time a virus was
shown to have a segmented genome, thus explaining the rather distinctive
ability of that virus to undergo frequent recombination by reassortment."
"He began working with retroviruses around 1966, and he was among
the first, or perhaps even the very first, to characterise their structural
proteins. He was involved in the first work that provided a genetic map
of retroviruses. Surely, this is one of the most important of his many
biochemical contributions, that is, the order of the genes gag, pol env,
and some aspects of the nature of their nucleotide sequences. We now know
that this fundamental result is applicable to all retroviruses, including
HTLV-I, II, and III. So, the application of biochemical methods to the
mapping of retroviral genes was first and primarily carried out by Peter.
Some of his work also ultimately became critical to the taxonomy of retroviruses."
"He carried out the first restriction endonuclease mapping of a
provirus. This was the first, or one of the first, to demonstate repetetive
sequences at the ends of the proviruses, which were the beginning of our
understanding of the LTRs that we talk about routinely today. He was involved
in the first publications which demonstrated that these viruses replicate
via a circular proviral DNA form. After reverse transcripts was discovered
(it was about that time I began to know Peter fairly well), Peter did some
of the early characterisation of this DNA polymerase. His publications
with his colleagues were the first reports showing that reverse transcriptase
utilised a primer mechanism, not just a template, but a primer to initiate
DNA synthesis, and he was the first to show that the primer was a 4S molecule.
But actually, although listing this as one as his major accomplishments,
I remember Peter telling me when he did those experiments he didn't know
what a primer actually was!"
"The next major phase of his work involved his classic studies
with Peter Vogt; Vogt the biologist. Peter the biochemist. This really
led to the first molecular and genetically defined transforming gene, the
sarc gene. A great deal of this brilliant and original, the real critical
aspects, was carried out by his extraordinarily effective collaboration
through the 1970's. Of course, Peter also worked on a number of other onc
genes, describing several for the first time, mostly in avian systems but
also in murine systems. Most recently this has been in collaboration with
Takas Papas at NCI."
"These are some of Peter's contributions. There are many more.
However, there are things about him that stand out as much as his science.
Peter Duesberg is a man of extraordinary energy, unusual honesty, enormous
sense of humour, and a rare critical sense. This critical sense often makes
us look twice, then a third time, at a conclusion many of us believed to
be foregone. However, his critiques are sometimes a major problem for the
casual observer. When is he truly debating? When is he only being the devil's
advocate? When is he being the devil himself? The casual observer is also
often at a loss to determine which of the many weapons he possesses he
is using. Peter, it is hard for us to tell when you are using your machine
gun or your slingshot, or simply exercising your vocal cords. In any event
you are an extraordinary scientist, a man who makes life more interesting
and pleasurable to many of us: and it is my good from: fortune to know
you as a friend."
Source: Modern Trends in Human Leukemia VI, Haematology and Blood
Transfusion vol.29 p.1, 1985.