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The two eras of developmental biology: Before Cloning and After DNA


A big danger in genetic manipulation: Shiga toxin and E. Coli
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Another remarkable lesson that emerged was, don't worry, if you can think of something dangerous, nature's probably done it. And one of the most dangerous things we could think of, because the idea was think of something that's practically dangerous and then see how you would deal with it. So I surmised of taking cholera toxin and putting it in E. coli (Escherichia coli) so that delivers the toxin to the right place, in a vector that can infect other bacteria, and that I considered a dangerous experiment, and then showed how one would cope with this. Well, it's been done befo... it's been done. It's called Shiga toxin. This is in fact the same kind of toxin as cholera toxin, it exists in a bacteriophage related to the common bacteriophage that we use in our laboratories – Llambda. This bacteriophage infects a Shigella bacterium, which is quite closely related to the common E. coli. And that's how nature has done it before. And of course always has priority over us. Well, having spe... I spent an inordinate amount of my time on this. And I think it was basically required in the sense that if people who were sensible had not done, then had not participated in this process we would have been left in some of the difficulties say, that they have in Germany today where it's extreme... it's impossible to do genetic experimentation. Or in parts of Japan as well, where it's impossible to do this kind of experimentation.

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: Escherichia coli

Duration: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010