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The unique research environment in the Cambridge labs


Cultivating organisms and pervertebrates
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I did all of these experiments with my own hands, for the simple reason that I loved the cultivation of organisms. I think I just loved the idea of growing all these strange bacteria and one of the things that I always want… I always… always found interesting to do is in fact to bring it to the stage that in fact other people can take it over and develop all the little tricks… tricks about… about handling the organisms oneself. After many of these desultory excursions I came to the conclusion that many of these sub-models were not… would not necessarily tell us the right thing, and it was at that time… it was some time later that I invented this new class of organisms. I used to say that organisms are divided into vertebrates, invertebrates, and the third class were called pervertebrates. These were organisms that were thought to be like others but were simply models of themselves. Like slime moulds is the one I did apply this to, much to the anger of the people who worked on this, who felt that they had been thereby reduced to a lower position in the hierarchy of biological investigations. I pointed out to them, position was not lower; it was just on the side. Now, nonetheless, in order to get to grips with these… with these questions, one had to begin to think of experimental models. At that time we had got a new building and what we decided is: we'll just get a whole lot of people, young people, and we'd give them the opportunity to work on this.

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: experiments, organisms, pervertabrates

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008