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My predictions of synthesising at the Ashby commission

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The beginning of controversy in genetic manipulation
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Paul Berg came to the lab and he asked me about advice on an experiment that he was trying to do with SV40, which was the first genetic engineering experiment that was ultimately reported. And I said I thought it was very interesting and he should do it, but you know, why not do it with something simpler rather than with SV40, which was a tumour virus and so on. But he came to discuss with me not the nature of the experiment, but whether he ought to do the experiment, you know, whether it was the right thing to do. That was, if you like, the kind of opening scene onto what hit us in the middle of 1974 when all these experiments were reported at the... and we then had a huge... the beginnings of genetic manipulation and its problems. I immediately recognised this would be the way to tackle the genetics of higher organisms and I wanted to do it. I mean, the first thing you'll want to do is clone those goddam muscle genes. And of course it became very difficult to actually introduce this programme for the simple reason that it aroused this huge outcry about the moratorium and made us... well, at... it propelled me at least quite heavily into the more political work of trying to get all of this unlocked. Because this was the first time that I think there was an enormous confrontation between, so to speak, science and public interest and all of these other questions which we now live with, but which had exploded in a very big way at the time.

South African Sydney Brenner 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: Paul Berg

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010