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Making plans with James Watson


Preparing to die in the desert
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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We then went through Monument Valley, which is where the four states meet, which is a desert, and it was hilarious because Jim said, 'You know, you can't get anything for 200 miles', or whatever it was, and he was… and, you know, he gave me pictures of disappearing there only, you know, to discover our bleached bones in the desert. And so while he… we went to a general store and while Jim was writing postcards to all his friends, you know, in Harvard saying, 'Farewell, we're about to embark on the desert', I who had travelled in deserts, you know, was getting equipped. That is, I bought an extra fan belt. This is the one thing; if you lose your fan belt you've had it. I actually bought water. I mean, Jim was buying ice cream, but I bought water. I bought canisters of water to take with me. I also bought a jar of… I think it was… it was butter, I think, that I got. Anyway, something that you could use on a piece of a shirt which you could coat to make a spare fuel pump. They had diaphragms in fuel pumps. I had been caught once with a collapsed fuel pump in a desert, and of course once that happens you've had it. And we made one out of a shirt and Vaseline, it… it was, which sort of held up. You know, got us to the next place. And of course all of this was just ridiculous. The desert was highly populated; you could get a Coke every now and then. The place was full of trucks of the Atomic Energy Commission, you know, collecting uranium. And so our great episode of landing up just as a pile of bleached bones never materialised.

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: Monument Valley, Harvard University, Atomic Energy Commission, James Watson

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008