Ulf Pettersson on The Nobel Prize
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

I can say that I’m—you know, the prize in medicine is awarded by the Karolinska Institute. And since I’m in Upsala, I’m not involved in that at all. Sometimes I’m a consultant. I mean, the committee asks people to evaluate people, so I sometimes do that. But I’m a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, so the prize in chemistry and the prize in physics, I actually have the right even to vote for or against.

I think we’re extremely proud of the Nobel Prize in Sweden because it’s such an outstanding prize. And it’s hard to see why. I mean it’s a lot of money, but that’s only part of it. So scientific prizes are very important. It’s perhaps sad to say that, but it’s a part of the human personality, the human trait that you want recognition for what you are doing. And you want somehow to be visible. I mean I think this is part of everybody’s to a greater or to a smaller extent. But I think it has played a big role, and I think it’s very clear in Jim’s life that he very early on in his career that he really wanted to win the Nobel Prize. I think that he says in one of his books that he wanted to work with Luria because Luria had or was going to win a Nobel Prize. So I think they are very important.

I mean you can always ask yourself; are they given in a reasonable manner. And I think that you could say that nearly all of the winners of the Nobel Prize have deserved the recognition. There are a lot of people who should have or would be qualified to receive who haven’t received. And there are fields which have not been recognized. I think largely that people feel that the Nobel Prize committee is doing a great thing.

If you ask why the Nobel Prize is so special, I think that number one it is an old prize. It has existed for more than one hundred years. And, secondly, I think that the Swedes have been very successful in the framework around the prize. You know, when you come to Stockholm you have your own driver, you supposed to stay in a special hotel, you meet the King and you have dinner with the King and there are parties and things. I’m very proud to say that we have done this well in Sweden.

I mean I know nothing about physics. So, in a way, it’s ridiculous that we really have a voting, but there is a special committee in the academy that works on this. And then they present alternatives and then there are votes for, but usually the subcommittee would come forward with the candidates and that’s the decision.

Ulf Pettersson, geneticist and virologist, is the vice-president of the University of Upssala in Sweden, a professor of medical genetics, and a leader of a group on genetic disease in the Department of Genetics and Pathology. His scientific research is focused on finding genes linked with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

After finishing his medical degree in Sweden and his thesis on adenovirus proteins, he came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked as a postdoc alongside Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. He researched transcription and the methods by which to grow and extract adenovirus DNA and studied how to use restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. His work led to the understanding of how the chromosome is organized and how transcription takes place. In the 80’s he slowly altered his concentration from virology to genetics.

After leaving Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1973 he became a professor of microbiology at the University of Uppsala and then chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics. He was a member of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) (1992-1998), and is currently a member of both the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences.