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The fusion of genetics and biochemistry


Enzymologists reject the model of DNA
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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The model wasn't accepted at all. You see, the… at that stage, you had the establishment. The establishment were all the biochemists, the big guys in… the big men in the world – people like Fritz Lipmann; there were all the people that were… Lynen, you know – all the people doing enzymology. The big man in this country was Tommy Work, who was trying to work on protein synthesis. And I think that this whole idea that you could have a structure which is a theory, that you could go from this theory to something that was biology, that you could do all these things like genetics, they didn't think… and as you know, I mean, Chargaff just said that molecular biologists were people who practised biochemistry without a licence. And in fact I remember one occasion – which was a little later than the period – where Francis had put forward the idea of the adaptor hypothesis. The adaptor hypothesis postulated that for each amino acid there'd be an RNA… well there'd be an adaptor, which we… later became the RNA, and there'd be one enzyme to join the two together. And the biochemists said, 'This is utterly impossible because… that there are going to be 20 enzymes to do this, because had they existed we biochemists would have already have discovered them, and we haven't, so it must be wrong'.

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: Fritz Lipmann, Tommy Work, Erwin Chargaff, Francis Crick

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008