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The next important problem: development and differentiation


Deciding to work on higher organisms
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I had been talking with Francis Crick about what we should do next and, you know, we felt we could now go and study the ribosome, for example. And you could set up a… a ribosomal project, and that would be we'd isolate all the proteins of the ribosome, we'd sequence all the proteins of the ribosome, and we'd then find out how ribosomes got built and how ribosomes got put together; we would do crystallography of the ribosomes and functional work. And indeed it took some 30 years for a few labs to do that program. Now we decided that none of these things seemed to us to be of great excitement, and one of the things that of course one had always been interested in – since I came from the study of animal cells, and Francis had a bit of a cell biology background himself – that of course we wanted to know something about higher organisms. And both of us were interested in the nervous system; I'd spent quite a lot of my youth working in it, but of course it was intractable at that stage. And so what I thought was: we now have all these powerful genetic tools; can't we use them to approach more complex problems?

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: Francis Crick

Duration: 1 minute, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008