Recorded: 09 Sep 2003
I don’t know Sydney Brenner well enough, and I haven’t followed his career well enough to really talk about him. But, you know, it’s absolutely clear that he was a towering figure of molecular biology from right at the beginning. And his Nobel Prize is, you know, long overdue. But the genius really was to see that you needed a model organisms like C. elegans and that you could with it actually crack the whole problem of development and thereby get into genetics from another viewpoint as it were. And that’s ignoring what came before with his triplet code work. The trouble, of course, is that early—those who were involved in the 1950’s, they were giants in those days. And they can’t all be that much cleverer than everybody else. It’s just that they were the first people in the sweetie jar. And there were a lot of very good sweeties to get out. But of them, Jim Watson, Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner, Jacques Monod, all these people, you know, they were great, great brains. And they had great, great problems to work on. It’s a marvelous combination.
Matt Ridley is a journalist and a leading science writer. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Oxford University in 1983. He worked as a correspondent and editor for The Economist, a columnist for Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and as editor of The Best American Science Writing 2002.
His books include Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature; Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters ; Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human; and Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. His books have been short-listed for many literary awards.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Ridley is the honorary life president of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s park devoted to life science that he founded in 1996. He is chairman of Northern Rock plc, and other financial services firms.
In 1996, Ridley first visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and made James D. Watson’s acquaintance. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is a visiting professor at the lab.