The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013
James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, Thomas C. Südhof
Telephone interview with Randy W. Schekman following the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 7 October 2013. The interviewer is Nobelprize.org's Adam Smith.
[Adam Smith] Oh hello, may I speak with Randy Schekman please?
[Randy Schekman] Speaking.
[AS] Oh hello, this is Adam Smith from Nobel Media in Stockholm, we have this tradition of recording very short interviews with new Laureates, would you be willing to talk for a few minutes?
[RS] Of course.
[AS] Thank you very much indeed. Well, first of all congratulations on the award of course.
[RS] Thank you, thank you.
[AS] What were you doing when the call came?
[RS] Well, I was sleeping (laughs). It was a quarter after one in the morning here. And I just came back from Frankfurt yesterday, where I spent a week at a meeting, so I was quite exhausted. But of course I was aware of what happens in the morning. So as soon the phone started ringing, my wife yelled out, ‘there it is, there it is' and I sized up things and picked up the phone and there was Göran Hansson. It was a thrill, a real thrill.
[AS] Lovely, what was your first action after the call?
[RS] After the call? Well, I danced around with my wife and repeatedly said ‘oh my god, oh my god'.
[RS] Then I called my father, my 86-year old father, who had been hoping for this for many years. He was shaken but thrilled. I called my two children, Joel and Lauren, got them out of bed and they were excited.
[AS] That's lovely, now they are celebrations all over the country.
[AS] People always joke that the award of a Nobel Prize always get's you a parking space at Berkeley, do you think that will happen?
[RS] (Laughs) Right. That's ... In fact, when I was the Chairman of the biochemistry division, I negotiated with two young faculty, who were moving from MIT, and who were very concerned about their opportunity to have parking permits for themselves as Assistant Professors, and in the formal letter of offer I assured them that they not only could pay for parking but if they happened to win a Nobel Prize, they'd get their parking for free. And they claim that was part of the contract that really sealed the deal for them.
[AS] (Laughs) It's an unusual incentive to work hard.
[RS] Yes it is.
[AS] So you are credited with doing the initial work that took our understanding of vesicle traffic from a purely descriptive to the beginning of a mechanistic understanding. And that understanding has taken a lot of time to achieve.
[RS] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So well, to begin with I want to credit George Palade who really pioneered the field of cell biology by developing the techniques of electron microscopy to visualise membranes within human cells, and it was his genius to realise, to appreciate how proteins that are going to be exported from cells are assembled, in a kind of assembly line process inside the cell. And when I began my laboratory in 1976, really around the same time when Jim Rothman began his laboratory at Stanford, we conceived of very different approaches to try to identify the machinery responsible for this mechanism. And I used the technique of classical yeast genetics, to make mutations in yeast cells, that define the pathway, and Rothman used a very complementary biochemical process to reconstitute the pathway in vitro. Over a period of years as we compared notes, sometimes collaboratively, sometimes competitively, it became clear that he and I were working many of the same proteins, many of the same genes and proteins. So that synthesis between the two sets really convinced us that we were on the right track, the project on, as I did.
[AS] Last question, how do you feel about the onslaught of press attention that's about to arrive?
[RS] The onslaught of..?
[AS] Of attention that's about to ... that will follow the announcement?
[RS] Yeah, well, I don't what to expect. Of course around this time of the year I'm always reminded that this could happen. In fact, I just returned from Germany, where I got another award the Otto Warburg Prize. The whole time people were saying, we'll see what happens on Monday. So I guess I was sort of primed for this today, although I came back from Europe yesterday, so I'm pretty jetlagged.
[AS] Yes, but I imagine you'll be living on the high of it for some time to come.
[RS] Oh yeah, I'll stay awake today.
[AS] Ok, well I wish you a really splendid day and once again congratulations. Thank you for talking to us and I look forward to talking to you again soon.
[RS] Thank you, thank you.
[AS] Ok, bye bye.
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