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George Jones

Biologist and biology professor George H. Jones was born February 21, 1942 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He received his B.A. degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard University in 1963. Jones continued his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he attained his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry under the tutelage of Dr. C. E. Ballou. Jones then worked for two years as a visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health between 1968 and 1970. After this, he moved on to the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in 1971. Upon returning to the United States, Jones was hired by the zoology department at the University of Michigan, and in 1975, he moved to the department of biology and chaired the department of cellular and molecular biology within the Division of Biological Sciences between 1980 and 1982.

In 1984, Jones assumed yet another post as professor and Associate Chairman for Space and Facilities at the University of Michigan; he also taught in the Division of Biological Sciences and served as Associate Dean at the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Between 1986 and 1989, Jones served as a professor in the department of biology at University of Michigan, and then in 1989, he moved to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia to serve as its Dean in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. In 1990, he served as the college’s acting dean. In 1996, Jones received the prestigious Goodrich C. White Professorship in Biology at Emory University.

Jones’ numerous awards include the University of Michigan Excellence in Teaching Award (1989) and the Emory University Scholar/Teacher Award (1998), as well as membership in several distinguished professional societies, including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the American Society for Microbiology. His research concerns the mechanism and regulation of antibiotic synthesis in the bacteria Streptomyces. He received a three-year National Science Foundation Grant in 2003 to study RNA degradation and antibiotic synthesis in Streptomyces, and another in 2008 to study RNA degradation and the regulation of antibiotic production. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

George H. Jones was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 12, 2011.

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Manual Training High School

Harvard University

University of California, Berkeley

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National Science Foundation



Favorite Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia

Favorite Quote

Never Give Up. Never Slow Down. Never Grow Old. Never Ever Die Young.

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Cheeseburgers (Bacon)

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Biology professor and biologist George Jones (1942 - ) researched RNA metabolism and the production of antibodies in bacteria. He was named the Goodrich C. White Professor in Biology at Emory University in 1996.


National Institute of Health (NIH)

University of Geneva, Switzerland

University of Michigan

Emory University

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Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slates of George Jones's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Jones shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Jones talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Jones shares his mother's aspirations and career path

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Jones talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Jones describes his parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Jones describes his childhood family life

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Jones recalls his childhood neighborhood in Muskoegee, Oklahoma

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - George Jones recalls older extended family members

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - George Jones describes his early interest in science

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - George Jones describes the community influences of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Jones discusses the history of African Americans in Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Jones recalls the black newspapers of Muskogee, Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Jones describes the cultural influences of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Jones remembers his interest in science, exploration and traveling

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Jones discusses living out West during the 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - George Jones describes the classes at Manual Training High School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - George Jones shares memories of his high school mentors

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - George Jones describes his interest in applying to Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - George Jones talks about his high school activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Jones discusses the importance of music in his community in Oklahoma

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Jones remembers his acceptance to Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Jones describes racial relations in Muskogee, Oklahoma

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Jones describes his trip from Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Jones remembers his transition to Harvard University as an undergraduate

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Jones talks about his college roommates and the black presence at Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Jones discusses the tension of the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement during his time at Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - George Jones talks about his sense of responsibility as a black student at Harvard University from 1959 to 1963

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Jones recalls his classmates from Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Jones discusses not having any mentors at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Jones recalls the lack of racism at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Jones talks about his career aspirations after his Harvard graduation

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Jones talks about the field of biochemistry in the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - George Jones describes the social climate of the Bay Area, California, in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - George Jones describes his graduate research on alpha-mannosidase

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - George Jones talks about the work environment at University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - George Jones describes his work with the National Institutes of Health

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Jones talks about his fellowship at the University of Geneva

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Jones recalls his decision to work with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Jones recalls the riots in Washington, D.C. in April 1968

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Jones shares his regrets on becoming a dean at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Jones talks about his research on the bacteria, Streptomyces

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Jones talks about the antibiotic, actinomycin

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Jones describes his decision to work at Emory University in 1989

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - George Jones discusses the research environment in the biology department of Emory University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Jones talks about RNA degradation

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - George Jones discusses the use of DNA sequencing in his research

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - George Jones discusses the value of learning something new every day

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - George Jones discusses the dogmas of science and religion

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - George Jones talks about the importance of studying the evolution of microorganisms

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - George Jones discusses the dangers of antibacterials

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - George Jones discusses his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - George Jones remarks on the importance of science in modern society

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - George Jones talks about Atlanta as a center for research

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - George Jones answers questions about members of his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - George Jones shares his concerns for the black community

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - George Jones reflects on how he would like to be remembered







George Jones discusses the importance of music in his community in Oklahoma
George Jones discusses the use of DNA sequencing in his research
What was it like, seeing your mother [Bernice Imonette Weaver] operate in a professional capacity [as choir director at Manual Training High School, Muskogee, Oklahoma], you know, I guess...?$$Well, I guess I didn't think much about it, I knew she was good at what she did because I had seen--she used to put on these really extravagant programs, musical programs of various sorts that I would always attend. And I would see her doing those kind of things and frequently, she would have rehearsals at the house or she would need to take me to school in order to have a--for there to be a rehearsal because, again, there wasn't any other child care available. So, I knew that she was good at what she did, because I saw the products of her efforts. And, so, being in the choir, I knew that she was going to hold all of us to a high standard, and she did. And the thing that she used to do, and it was very clever of her, and I even knew that at the time--so I was in the baritone section and whenever anyone was misbehaving, she wouldn't try to identify them, she would always blame me. She would say, you know, "Somebody was talking back there." She would tell me to stop talking. So, what I had to do in order not to be blamed for that was I had to keep all of them in line, because I knew I was going to be blamed for it, no matter who was doing it. It was very clever, and it worked.$$Okay, that's interesting. There seems to be a strong musical tradition in Oklahoma, you know.$$Yeah.$$Dr. [Legand L.] Burge [Dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Physical Sciences], we interviewed at Tuskegee [Tuskegee Inst., Alabama, on April 11, 2011], grew up in Oklahoma City, he plays the piano. He was a pianist in church and toured all over Oklahoma.$$I think that was a part of, again, the kind of, there weren't many artistic outlets for us as we were growing up. It was very difficult, I think, for anybody in my community, no matter how talented they were, to become an artist, a sculptor. There weren't even those kinds of classes in the high school, or anywhere for that matter that I'm aware of. So, when you thought about the kind of artistic outlets that people might both want and need to have, one of the ones that was available, one of the few that was available was music.$$Okay.$$And so a lot of really terrific musicians came out of my community.$Okay. Are you happiest doing research?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Yeah, even at my advanced age [sixty nine years old], I still enjoy the research, and actually still enjoy doing experiments myself. I don't do as much as I used to, but I still work at the bench myself from time to time.$$So, is there an ultimate goal you want to, is there--that you want to accomplish before you...?$$Well, yeah there is, there really is. Not ultimate in the sense of answering the fundamental biological question, but really sort of serendipitously, we have used, or are beginning to use, a new approach to study the biology systems that we're interested in. It's called high throughput DNA sequencing. Just to give you an idea of sort of the way that that has an impact on the kind of stuff that we do in terms of understanding the structure of the genetic material and the genomes of organisms, the first living cell whose DNA was sequenced, probably took a year to get that sequence information. It might have taken longer than that, certainly six months to a year. Now you can do it in a week, maybe less. And that's because of the development of new techniques that allow you to do this kind of sequencing very rapidly. We've been able to use that technique in our system to understand some things about the relationship between RNA degradation and antibiotic production. To my knowledge, nobody yet in the entire world, has done that, and I'm hoping that before I actually step down as a practicing scientist, that we will be able to mime, to use that approach, to mime the system and get as much information out of it as possible that will help us to understand how these processes work.$$Okay.$$And that's one of the reasons why I'm still involved and excited about the science, because there are things that we can do now that we couldn't even do two or three years ago.$$In research, the nature of research, I've been told, is that you really have to stay on the new technology...$$That's right. You know, there's a real temptation to get something that works and just to keep doing it. And that's the quickest way to stagnate. You may become very good at it, but in the meantime, the likelihood is going to be that the science is passing you by.$$Yeah, we've interviewed others who have gone into administration and tried to get back to research, and find that the bus has left, the train has left the station.$$Exactly. That's one of the reasons why I was not willing to completely give up my science when I became a dean, because I knew from talking to other people, in part, that if you give it up completely, it's almost impossible to come back to it.