In 1979 I was ensconced in Building 29A in the center of the NIH campus with a career appointment at the FDA’s Bureau of Biologics. My friends and colleagues, Carl Merril and David Goldman at the
The Director of NIH invited Deal to present a seminar in Building 1, as a part of the Director’s special series of invited speakers who were doing something innovative in the biosciences. It was unusual for such attention to be given on this prestigious occasion to a laboratory technique that had not produced any great discoveries as yet. Nevertheless, those at NIH who were interested in exploiting the technique attended the seminar with great enthusiasm, and, indeed, the auditorium was almost full.
I found myself near the front of the auditorium at the edge of the center aisle and Carl Merril found a seat on the opposite side of the aisle in the same row. Because this was a special series, Deal’s talk was scheduled to last an hour and a half – an unusually lengthy talk – as a rule of thumb the more eloquent the presentation the less time it should take. Deal, in deed, took every last second to present every thought that had come to mind about the importance of protein profiling as a tool for elucidation of the genetic basis of human traits and disease population-wide. After about an hour, I started to imagine hearing a crescendo of goose-stepping soldiers in jackboots marching in the background. The tone of Deal’s talk started to sour in my mind and I was thinking that he would have been much better off had he ended his talk after the usual 50 to 55 minutes. I lost count of the number of slides shown during his presentation, but it seemed like at least 50. At this point Deal ended his talk, but the projectionist did not cooperate and produced one more slide. The speaker looked back at the screen and saw something that immediately rattled him – in an agitated fashion he asked the projectionist to shut down the slide presentation because he didn’t want to show anymore slides.
The slide, mistakenly shown, displayed the technique of using a silver nitrate-based stain to enhance an image of a protein separation pattern in a polyacrylamide gel – a soon to be published technique that had just been discovered by Carl Merril. Carl, an avid photographer, recognized that the process of film development could be applied to polyacrylamide films and had shown that one could enhance, by 100-fold, the resolution of a complex mixture of proteins in an electrophoresis separation pattern thus allowing the investigator to make observations that couldn’t be made otherwise. The technique was especially useful for analyzing body fluids such as plasma and cerebral spinal fluids. The problem here was that Carl had submitted his first manuscript to Science on the discovery of this method. With manuscript submissions to Science, the author can recommend informed scientists as potential reviewers of the manuscript and often Science will choose from such recommendations. Carl had recommended Dr. B. Deal as a reviewer. Peer reviewers of grants and journal submissions traditionally respect and honor the proprietary nature of unpublished manuscripts. Deal rejected the paper for Science on the basis that it was not important enough for this journal. However, the showing of the slide revealed that Dr. Deal had added the technique to his long repertoire of research accomplishments and incorporated the unpublished technique into his well-toured seminar presentation. There were perhaps only two people in the audience that knew what had happened – Carl and I glanced at each other with wry smiles. At the end of all of this, as I walked out, Deal leaped off the stage to explain himself to Carl.