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Scientific interaction with Francis Crick


Physicists preparing for biology
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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On the other hand, those who came from physics and thought that they would find a new physics in biology just got lost in the metaphysical jungle, for the simple reason that, you know, biology is very low energy physics – that it's got… of course it's consistent with the laws of physics, otherwise if we weren't we wouldn't be here, and it's just chemistry… part of chemistry in a very particular mode. So I think many of the earlier discussions of the physicists were irrelevant. And I also think that what is another thing that's remarkable is you can't prepare yourself, as I mistakenly believed as a young person, equip yourself with a theoretical apparatus for the future. You know, so you learn group theories saying… could be important, or lattice algebra, and go around looking for such other tools, because I think it's good to know what there is. But I don't think you can, so to speak, equip yourself, because I think things take you from the back basically and surprise you. And someone once told me, 'What mathematics do I need to'… asked me, 'What mathematics do I need to do biology?' I said, 'The ability to count up to 20, that's all. You don't need much more from that. It's 20 amino acids, four bases, you might have to go to 64 at some stage, but you don't need much more than that.' So I think that that's another interesting thing where we are mistaken in how we prepare ourselves, you know, for our heroic voyages of the future. The best thing to do a heroic voyage is just start. Don't… don't equip yourself.

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: physics, preparation, equip, biology, chemistry, lattice algebra, maths, amino acids

Duration: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008