Sydney Brenner on Rich Roberts, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  Sydney Brenner     Biography    
Recorded: 10 Jun 2002

Well, Rich I’ve known—and Rich came to Cold Spring Harbor, I think, he did this very interesting work on the splicing at the time. Rich originally was in Cambridge. He came from Birmingham—he spent time with friends, taking a fiery course. So I knew him when he was in our Cambridge lab.

And then of course every time I came to Cold Spring Harbor, I would spend time with him. And I still spend time with him now in his—you know, at NEB (New England Bio-laboratories.) So I see Rich sort of, you know, at times. I think that he did a very fine job on those restriction enzymes. I think they turned out to be very interesting biology there.

Well, you see—he’s someone that comes—you see, again—English people—it depends, you know, because there is a kind of class thing and so on. So Rich comes from—he’s not an aristocrat like Cairns in that sense. I mean Cairns isn’t an aristocrat in the sense that his father is not a duke, you see. But he is close to the aristocracy; we call it the intellectual aristocracy.

So Rich came from Birmingham, I believe. And he came to Cambridge he was a chemist. So he got into this entire field and I think he’s—you know, I wouldn’t like people actually to do this. There are people who you feel that are really outstanding characters. I mean Jim [Watson]’s an outstanding character whatever else you think about him! I wouldn’t say that Rich is of that sort of—I think Cairns is also got, very outstanding, amusing features which I think you begin to—you had a different taste for these things in England, but in America things tend to be much more even. And I think in the end I just don’t think he—you know, Jim and him saw eye to eye about working on restriction enzymes, but Jim has been very often wrong, I’ll tell you. I wouldn’t take advice from Jim about science.

Jim told me he wouldn’t give me a penny for what I was doing. So there you are.

Sydney Brenner is a pioneer in the field of molecular biology. He was born in South Africa in 1927 and received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1954. From 1979 to 1986 he served as Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Biology and from 1986 to 1991, as the Director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory Molecular Genetics Unit, both in Cambridge, England.

Since 1996 he has been the President and Director of Science at the Molecular Sciences Institute in La Jolla and Berkeley. Brenner was honored as a Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2000.

In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Dr. John Sulston and Dr. Robert Horvitz “for their discoveries concerning ‘genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death’” studying the organism C. elegans.