Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gene-Splitters Split Nobel Prize in Medicine 2 Scientists Separately Discovered Foundation of Today's Research

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gene-Splitters Split Nobel Prize in Medicine 2 Scientists Separately Discovered Foundation of Today's Research

Article excerpt

In 1977, two scientists separately studying the virus that causes the common cold discovered that a gene could be split into several units rather than one continuous segment.

The finding revolutionized genetics and helped other researchers earn a Nobel Prize. On Monday, Phillip A. Sharp and Richard J. Roberts won their own.

The Massachusetts-based scientists were named co-recipients of the Nobel Prize in medicine and will share an $825,000 prize.

"It felt good this morning, folks," Sharp said at a news conference hours after his wake-up call from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Sweden, informing him of the award.

"Everybody doing science wants to feel they are going to make a discovery that everybody will look up to," Roberts said at a separate news conference. "But I think there's a different kind of satisfaction that comes when you realize that all of your colleagues also think it was a great discovery."

Sharp, 49, born in Falmouth, Ky., gained a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Illinois. He also researched at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., between 1971 and 1974, then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Since 1991 Sharp has been head of the department of biology at MIT.

Roberts, 50, was born in Derby, England, graduated from Sheffield University and later worked as a research associate at Harvard University.

In 1972 he started work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he carried out the prize-winning research. Since 1992 he has been research director at New England Biolabs, Beverly, Mass.

The two knew of each other's work but weren't collaborating when they made their discoveries.

Their work changed scientists' understanding about DNA makeup and helped launch the field of biotechnology.

Genes, the building blocks of hereditary material, had been thought to be unbroken segments along strands of DNA. Roberts and Sharp discovered that individual genes can also be discontinuous - spread over several, separated segments.

"Everybody thought that genes were laid out in exactly the same way, and so it came as a tremendous surprise at the time," Roberts said in an interview. …

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