Richard J. Roberts

Banquet speech

Richard J. Roberts’ speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1993

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my colleague, Phillip Sharp and myself, I would like to express our deep gratitude for the unparalleled honor conferred upon us today. Science is rarely a solitary occupation and our discovery of split genes depended heavily on talented colleagues and a vast body of experimental biology that had preceded our work. We view this award as a tribute to those colleagues and especially to our co-workers, Richard Gelinas, Louise Chow and Tom Broker from Cold Spring Harbor and Susan Berget and Claire Moore from MIT.

In the last few weeks I have frequently been asked “What causes genes to be split?”. This is a deep evolutionary question and I could probably drone on for several hours, but a faster answer will be needed here. In many letters that Phil and I have received from schoolchildren this was the burning question. One surprising answer was proposed by a Reverend from New York. He sent a long and detailed letter explaining that it was “static electricity and deadly ozone gas” that caused the genes to be split. However, it was apparent that this was also his explanation for Crib Death and a variety of other ills that befall us. No doubt prompted by the phrase “splitting the atom” some letters from children, or perhaps their parents, suggested that Phil and I had ourselves split the genes and were curious to know how we had done it. During a conversation with a reporter today I was complimented as being “the youngest of this year’s prize-winners”. In fact, I am not but do have a youthful appearance. I wonder if my genes are not split as much as other people’s. Recently, the answer came from a quite unexpected source – a Philadelphia newspaper. A vivid illustration in a comic strip showed a rather large gentleman bending over, with dramatic consequences for the seam for his jeans.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1993, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1994

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1993

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