Recorded: 08 May 2012
It is—E. coli bacteria are bacteria which you can grow in the laboratory relatively easily. You just provide them a nutrient [??] and within half an hour you have from one cell two. That means within a day you have a large population. You can study normal mutations in these populations, and so on. So that’s quite favorable. As compared to generation times of animals, which are of course as we know much longer. So, that facilitated the advance of our knowledge on the molecular level. And, we do know—of course, we knew that since quite some time, that there’s a big diversity of bacteria, of micoorganisms, of the various kinds, viruses, but actually, a majority of those you cannot grow so easily in the laboratory. And therefore, not very much studies has been done. It is worthwhile to continue research on those which have a long history of scientific investigations, and E. coli was not my invention. That was already used by Joshua and Esther Lederberg, and other people who started to work on codification bacterial genetics. And therefore, with all that basic knowledge it was much easier to do the work which we have done.
Werner Arber, (born June 3, 1929, Gränichen, Switz.), Swiss microbiologist, corecipient with Daniel Nathans and Hamilton Othanel Smith of the United States of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 1978. All three were cited for their work in molecular genetics, specifically the discovery and application of enzymes that break the giant molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) into manageable pieces, small enough to be separated for individual study but large enough to retain bits of the genetic information inherent in the sequence of units that make up the original substance.
Arber studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, the University of Geneva, and the University of Southern California. He served on the faculty at Geneva from 1960 to 1970, when he became professor of microbiology at the University of Basel.
During the late 1950s and early ’60s Arber and several others extended the work of an earlier Nobel laureate, Salvador Luria, who had observed that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) not only induce hereditary mutations in their bacterial hosts but at the same time undergo hereditary mutations themselves. Arber’s research was concentrated on the action of protective enzymes present in the bacteria, which modify the DNA of the infecting virus—e.g., the restriction enzyme, so-called for its ability to restrict the growth of the bacteriophage by cutting the molecule of its DNA to pieces.