Werner Arber on Neo-Darwinism
  Werner Arber     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2012

Well, of course the knowledge acquired in the last fifty years, since we do know, or it’s more than fifty years, from the end of the 1940s, we learned, of course, at that moment we realized, one realized that genetic information is carried on DNA, and now we have access to all these evolving sequences. Sequence analysis has become easy thanks to the genetic engineering strategies, and that really gives much more impact. Interestingly, people say that the Linnaean classification into families and into species is still more or less correct. But, sequence comparison helps us to see really the development of how different things interdepend on each other. Actually, I might recall Darwin was already drawing a tree of evolution and correctly he concluded that living beings nowadays have common origins. I’m not sure if one, or several, or many origins. So on this we don’t know, but they are interconnected historically.

Sorry. The interesting thing nowadays is we know that occasionally a gene, or a small group of genes, can flow from one branch in this tree to another branch by horizontal transfer. And, if you think now this will continue like that for long periods of time, that living beings today have not only common origin but common futures, because sooner or later you may profit by horizontal transfer of some development made elsewhere.

From my point of view so far on the kind of classical view of genetics Darwin is still correct. We know now how the processes of variation occur, but more and more the biologists see that complexity is much larger than just having a number of genes which gets expressed when their products are there. It is important that we see the whole thing still evolving in our knowledge and that leads to possibly a more complete understanding of the complexity of life.

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.