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My secret input into the DNA model


The surprise of England
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Coming to Oxford was of course a great surprise in many ways, and one had… I had an image of England which was completely distorted, and of course I… that, one realised as this... as the boat docked at Southampton, on a very cold morning and I looked out, everything was much smaller than I had imagined it to be. Of course, coming from South Africa, where distances were enormous, the whole idea that things that were far away were 30 miles apart was… was… came as a surprise and of course coming to Oxford on that day and… was again a surprise to me, and a shock in a way because I had come to learn of the death of Harold Daitz on that very day. However, I did settle down. I got myself digs as they were, with… in Herne Road. Of course, there was food rationing in England which I hadn't… couldn't understand, and so I had to give all my landlady all my points for meat so that I could have a breakfast there, and the important people that I met in Oxford... and of course Oxford was not very interested in scientists at the time; scientists were second-class citizens; and of course colonials were in the second division of the second-class. And so one's social life was quite restrained – had almost nothing to do with the university – but there had been set up in Oxford for the benefit of scientists a kind of postgraduate club called Halifax House and it is through that… it was just across the road from the physical chemistry laboratory where I worked and through that that I met Jack Dunitz.

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: UK, Oxford University, Southampton, South Africa, Oxford University Graduate Club, Halifax House, Harold Daitz, Jack D Dunitz

Duration: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008