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The beginning of controversy in genetic manipulation


Using my invented unit - Av - in an experiment
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I invented a unit which was an Av. An Av of events was 6 x 1023 events. So for example, a milli-Av was 6 x 10 20, and a micro-Av was 6 x 1017. And I thought that I could go down to perhaps a nano-Av, by using big vats of culture. But certainly I could look at about 1013 events. Which is of course just slightly under a nano-Av. And of course now we know that experiment wouldn't had a hope in hell of working. No, not a chance. Zero. For the simple reason, these nematode genes have introns in them. The... the bacterium wouldn't have known what to do with them. I mean, you know, apart from all the other barriers for transfer, which we now know about, host-induced modification wouldn't have had a thing. So Francis talked me out of it. He was quite right, because I thought it was, you know, the last desperate experiment.

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



Duration: 1 minute, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010