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NEXT STORY

Called to Italy

RELATED STORIES

The Genome Project
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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Però, mi ricordo che un giovane è venuto da me a dirmi -Guardi, che c'è una cosa interessante che il Prof. Sinsheimer- che era un mio collega al Caltech nei tempi passati, e che adesso era nella California del nord come presidente di un istituto- che lui- che era interessato nel DNA, aveva sempre lavorato in questo campo- Che lui ha organizzato un piccolo meeting appunto per questo, per vedere se è possibile arrivare a questo progetto. Perciò questo mi ha rafforzato le idee, almeno ho qualcuno che va d'accordo con me. E poi, quando ho ripetuto questo in un altro meeting, non so dove esattamente, insomma tutto questo perciò ha suscitato un po' di interesse, ma era una cosa molto limitata, per cui ho detto, guarda, forse la cosa più importante è che devo scrivere un articolo sopra Science, che è il giornale scientifico più letto che ci sia, per fare questo punto in modo che, dopo di quello, la gente non può più ignorarlo, devono capire se vogliono farlo o se non vogliono farlo. E così ho scritto questo articolo che, da principio, era un po' lungo come articolo, perciò Kennedy, che era il direttore di Science, il redattore, mi ha detto -No, questo è troppo lungo, bisogna farlo più breve. Dice -Cominciamo da questo numero ad avere una nuova rubrica che si chiama ‘Le prospettive', dice -Perciò scrivi una prospettiva, due pagine. Allora ho fatto questo ed è stato pubblicato. Ecco l'effetto di quello è stato enorme, perché, appunto, come dicevo, quando si pubblica, tutti lo possono leggere e tutti devono reagire in qualche modo. Mi ricordo che Paul Berg era a un meeting a Cold Spring Harbor, non so- c'era uno di questi meeting a Cold Spring Harbor- e ha visto questo articolo proprio durante il meeting, allora ha parlato a Watson e dice -Guarda, questo bisogna che facciamo una speciale riunione su questo con tutti i membri già di questa riunione. E così ha cominciato a discutere e questo è stato in fondo il principio delle discussioni sopra questo campo. Nell'insieme, le reazioni che io ricevevo nelle prime due o tre settimane erano fondamentalmente quasi tutte negative, tutti vedevano l'enorme difficoltà di fare questo però, pian pianino, entro dopo- direi in meno di un mese, la situazione è cambiata completamente, perché tutti quelli che prima esitavano, erano contrari, adesso vedevano la necessità ed è così che il progetto è partito con grande velocità, veramente, perché c'era- Però direi, che le prime reazioni negative, però se nel giro di un mese- il fermento creato da questo articolo di "Science" è stato quello che ha portato a guardare più in fondo le cose. Eh, sì, certo; c'erano riunioni, cose incredibili avvenivano, perché mi ricordo c'è stata una riunione lì a Washington, all'Accademia delle Scienze, in cui io ho presentato di nuovo questo, spiegando quali sono le ragioni, i vantaggi, ecc. ecc. e poi una discussione, che tutti presentavano lati positivi, lati negativi, ecc. e c'è un genetista nella categoria- nella gerarchia ufficiale in Italia ha una posizione permanente, perché è membro di un comitato dell'Accademia delle Scienze, insomma e lui dice- Ma, non capisco perché bisogna conoscere tutti i geni, dice- E` come se noi avessimo un albero con tante foglie e vogliamo pigliare tutte le foglie, una per una, ed esaminarle. Questo è pazzesco. E io dico- Ma pensiamoci bene, le foglie di un albero sono tutte le stesse, i geni di un uomo sono tutti diversi- perciò, poi non ha più detto niente. C'è ancora questo genetista? Sì, sì, c'è ancora. Ma insomma, così sono- e cosi' il Progetto Genoma è partito.
And so I remember that a young man came up to me and said, -Look, there is something interesting that Prof. Sinsheimer- who was a colleague of mine at Caltech in the past, and who was now in northern California as chairman of an institute- who was interested in DNA, he had always worked in this field- that he had organised a small meeting regarding this, to see if it is possible to carry out this project. Therefore this reinforced my ideas, at least someone agreed with me. And then, when I repeated this in another meeting, I don't know where exactly, in fact all this therefore aroused a little interest, but it was still very limited, so I said, look, perhaps the most important thing is that I should write an article in "Science", which is the most popular science journal there is, to convey this point in such a way that, after which, people could no longer ignore it, they have to understand whether or not they want to do this. And so I wrote this article that, from the start, was a bit too long, so Kennedy, who was director of "Science", the editor, said to me, No, this is too long, you need to shorten it. He said From this issue we're starting a new section called Perspectives, so write a perspective, two pages. This is what I did and it was published. It had a huge effect because, as I was saying, when you publish something everyone can read it and everyone has to react in some way. I remember that Paul Berg was at a meeting in Cold Spring Harbour, I don't know- it was one of these meetings at Cold Spring Harbour- and he saw this article actually during the meeting, then he spoke to Watson and said Look, we will have to call a special meeting about this with all the members already at the meeting. And thus he started to discuss it and this was in essence the start of the discussions on this subject. On the whole, reactions that I received in the first two to three weeks were almost all negative, everyone saw the huge difficulty of doing this, however, slowly, within less than a month, the situation changed completely, because all those who at first hesitated, were against it, now saw the necessity and this is how the project got off the ground so quickly, because- However, I would say that the initial negative reactions, if within the space of a month- the turmoil created by this "Science" article was what brought things out into the open. Yes, certainly; there were meetings, incredible things were happening- because I remember there was a meeting there in Washington, at the Science Academy, in which I again presented this, explaining the reasons, the advantages, etc, etc. and then a discussion, wherein everyone presented positive sites, negative sides, etc. and there was a geneticist in the category, who had a permanent position in the official hierarchy in Italy, because he was a member of a committee of the Science Academy, in fact and he said But I don't understand why you need to know all the genes, he said, It's like having a tree with lots of leaves and we want to take all the leaves, one by one, to examine them. This is madness. And I said But think about it some more, the leaves of a tree are all the same, the genes of a man are all different. He didn't say anything else after this. Is this geneticist still around? Yes, yes, he's still around. And so the Genome Project took off.

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Duration: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008