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Émigrés often make the best discoveries


Francis Crick's interest in gradients
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Francis himself had got very interested in gradients. And he had got interested in what I told him about my meeting with Lewis Wolpert in Woods Hole, in which I found Lewis, as I've remarked, crying in the wilderness - I mean, literally crying, not… not yelling or screaming but with tears in the wilderness - because he could not get a single person there to understand what he was talking about. And everybody had just dismissed this in one of two ways. Either it had all been done before and was old-fashioned, or this is no way to explain things. Because at Woods Hole in that year I well remember a… a secret seminar which was held in the house of one of the… of a very high class exclusive to which I'd gone to, in which they had discussed the question of whether differentiation was a state or a process. Now… this seemed to me to be a very difficult question to ask, and the only way I could get to what they were trying to do was to explain to people that the difference between these is the difference between being laid-back and mellowing out, which was the jargon of that time. In other words, laid-back is the state and mellowing out is the process to achieve the state. And, of course, differentiation is both a state and a process - you'd need another word. However, that was the level of discussion at the time there.

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: Lewis Wolpert

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010