History of Restriction Enzymes Meeting

A lively and productive meeting on The History of Restriction Enzymes was held October 19-21, 2013, at Grace Auditorium, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). This international meeting was organized by Herb Boyer, Stu Linn, Rich Roberts, and Mila Pollock. Herb Boyer is a restriction enzyme and recombinant DNA pioneer and co-founder of Genentech; Stu Linn is a restriction enzyme pioneer and professor at the University of California Berkeley; Rich Roberts is a restriction enzyme and gene splicing pioneer, Nobel laureate, and chief scientific officer of New England BioLabs; and Mila Pollock is the executive director of the CSHL Library and Archives. This was the fifth international meeting on the history of science co-organized by the CSHL Library and Archives. It was the first to bring together the scientists who were involved with the discoveries and research on restriction enzymes dating back to the 1950s and covering developments to the present time.

The meeting was attended by more than 150 scientists, history of science scholars/authors, educators, students, and members of the CSHL community. It included sessions on:

  • The beginnings of the field
  • The growth of the restriction enzyme field
  • The development of restriction enzymes into commercial reagents
  • Cloning and sequencing of restriction modification (RM) systems
  • The biochemistry of restriction enzymes
  • Structural studies of restriction enzymes

Highlights of the meeting

  • A special toast to meeting co-organizer Rich Roberts
  • A presentation entitled, Restriction enzymes: between nature, culture and politics, by historian of science and medicine and author Bruno Strasser
  • A poster session that included poster presentations by nine restriction enzyme research groups and one historian of science/author
  • Short contributions, including reminiscences of life in the restriction enzymes research community, by Robert Yuan, Lise Raleigh, David Dryden, Ichizo Kobayashi, and others
  • A summarization of the meeting by Stu Linn, which included commentary on the importance of meetings, collaborations, and short visits to other labs; the importance of "small science"; and "some hot and future items" for restriction and modification studies


  • Herb Boyer, University of California, San Francisco
  • Stu Linn, University of California, Berkeley
  • Mila Pollock, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Richard Roberts, New England BioLabs


  • Aneel Aggarwal, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
  • Werner Arber, University of Basel, Switzerland
  • Tom Bickle, University of Basel, Switzerland
  • Herb Boyer, University of California, San Francisco
  • Jack Chirikjian, Georgetown University
  • Steve Halford, Bristol University, United Kingdom
  • Ken Horiuchi, The Rockefeller University
  • Clyde Hutchison, J. Craig Venter Institute
  • Arvydas Janulaitis, Institute of Biotechnology, Lithuania
  • Stu Linn, University of Califoria, Berkeley
  • Bill Linton, Promega
  • Arvydas Lubys, Institute of Biotechnology, Lithuania
  • Matthew Meselson, Harvard University
  • Rick Morgan, New England BioLabs
  • Andrzej Piekarowicz, Warsaw University, Poland
  • Alfred Pingoud, Institute of Biochemistry - Giessen, Germany
  • Mila Pollock, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Rich Roberts, New England BioLabs
  • John Rosenberg, University of Pittsburgh
  • Ham Smith, J. Craig Venter Institute
  • Bruno Strasser, Yale University & University of Geneva
  • Geoff Wilson, New England BioLabs

What are restriction enzymes?

Discovered in 1970, restriction enzymes are enzymes that cleave DNA at specific recognition sites, and have many uses in molecular biology, genetics, and biotechnology. More than 4,000 restriction enzymes are known today, of which more than 621 are commercially available.

The 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Werner Arber, Dan Nathans and Hamilton Smith for the discovery of "restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics." Werner Arber and Hamilton Smith both participated in the CSHL meeting. (Dan Nathans passed away in 1999.)

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