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Using my invented unit - Av - in an experiment


Inserting nematode DNA into Bacillus subtilis
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I had an experiment which Francis dissuaded me from doing, which was to see if nematode genes would work in bacteria. I had been very impressed by our steam engineering approaches, namely that if you bung DNA together hard enough it will... it will work. And I knew that Bacillus subtilis was an organism that could accept DNA. And therefore I said, well, if I get a mutant of Bacillus subtilis in let us say, a glycolytic enzyme, molecular biology had shown us that the glycolytic enzymes were the same throughout the whole of nature, so that function would be retained. So triosephosphate isomerase from me and E. coli [Escherichia coli] and yeast and lobsters is all a very similar protein. Therefore I argued very naively that if I could get... if I could get a mutant of Bacillus subtilis, and I could make it so it wouldn't revert itself, which is make double mutants, then I could take nematode DNA and see if I could restore the gene to Bacillus subtilis. And... and then if I got that in, then I'd have a piece there, then I could climb in with others, because this would have to be brute force, the others would be by genetic homology. So I had a whole scheme then worked out in about 1972/73 to do this transformation experiment. What I calculated is how many events. Now, this concept of event is quite interesting. I invented a unit for it called an Av.

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: Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010