“I think in my deepest recesses I’ve always been a scientist”
Transcript of the telephone interview with Sir Martin J. Evans immediately following the announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 8 October 2007. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org.
[Unknown] – Hello, [name inaudible] speaking.
[Adam Smith] – Oh, hello, this is Adam Smith calling from the Nobel Foundation’s website. May I speak to Martin Evans please?
[Unknown] – Yes, of course, just hold on please.
[AS] – Thank you.
[Martin Evans] – Hello.
[AS] – Oh, hello, this is Adam Smith from the Nobel Foundation’s website, Nobelprize.org.
[ME] – Yes.
[AS] – We have a tradition of recording these short interviews with new Laureates. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?
[ME] – Absolutely.
[AS] – Thank you very much. First of all, needless to say, many congratulations …
[ME] – Well, thank you very much.
[AS] – … on the award. I gather that they caught you on the telephone only just before the public announcement.
[ME] – Yes, yes, five minutes before I think.
[AS] – Was it a surprise to you?
[ME] – Of course it was, yes. Yes, it was. I mean, I’ve been asked this repeatedly today and I have to admit that I knew that there was a possibility. I was sort of in the frame and had the Lasker Prize some years ago and clearly it’s a possibility but I had no idea whatsoever that this was going to happen. So, yes, wow!
[AS] – And speaking to Professors Capecchi and Smithies …
[ME] – Yes.
[AS] – … they’ve both been emphasizing the fact that all three of you are friends.
[ME] – Yes, I would agree. Absolutely. I’m delighted to be awarded it with them.
[AS] – How did the three of you meet?
[ME] – So I went to work for a month in the States, in Richard Mulligan’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute. Now, because I had a short time and was definitely going to learn technology there, I had said “No, I will give no seminars, no I’ve got to do no visiting, no, I will not see or speak to anybody else. I will get in the lab.” However, I got a phone call through from Oliver Smithies. I remember to this day, I said to him “Oliver, you are the only person who I will come and visit.” And I …
[AS] – And he recalls you bringing the cells in your pocket, I think.
[ME] – I did, I went over the weekend with the cells in my pocket, and so that was my real contact with him and I would concur, I would call him a very good friend. And then, when I got back from the states, I think it was probably about a week or so later, I’m not quite sure, quite soon, Mario Capecchi had got in touch with us and he came over for a week with his wife to learn how to deal with the cells.
[AS] – Right, right. You’ve described your self previously as being something of an outsider. Do you think that’s an important appellation, do you think it’s important to march against the tide if you want to be successful?
[ME] – I know what you’re referring to. It’s true. I don’t know, I mean, if you do, then you do things which other people don’t, but maybe it’s … who says that it’s going to be an effective way of doing things. But yes, I think that is partly true.
[AS] – Is it possible to say that if one is an outsider, the value of the prize is perhaps a little greater?
[ME] – Well, I don’t know if it’s greater or not but it is such a valuable honour that, I don’t know if you can … you know, you get to infinity and you can’t go any further, can you?
[AS] – That’s a nice idea.
[ME] – It is another … for so many years I’ve being saying it’s a boyhood dream, which it is. Obviously in my career I’ve known a lot of Nobel Prize winners and, you know, they’ve always been the tops of the tops, amazingly. And, as I say it’s a boyhood dream. And someone said “Is that like scoring the goal in the FA cup?” and I said, “No, it’s like scoring a goal in the world cup!” You know, it is that sort of one-off, sort of amazing …
[AS] – It’s as good as it gets I imagine.
[ME] – Yes.
[AS] – And you’ve been a scientist since boyhood indeed.
[ME] – Yes, I would think so. I think in my deepest recesses I’ve always been a scientist.
[AS] – And what are your hopes for the future potential of the embryonic stem cells you developed?
[ME] – Well I think it’s very interesting that embryonic stem cells, which can be grown in culture and which can differentiate in a mouse, they can also differentiate in vitro. And that has actually given them two platform technologies that they’ve established. One is the one we’re talking about here, the ability to manipulate the mouse genome. But the other of course is the one that’s come through in recent years, which the opportunity, maybe, to use the human embryonic stem cells as a platform for regenerative medicine. And I think that all of the (I mean I’m sure you’re well up with the situation), all of the ethical angst and anxiety is going to melt away once we’ve got the reprogramming going properly.
[AS] – If one just concentrates on the mouse side of things, do you think that there’s more to be done on that side?
[ME] – If you look at the numbers of known, well-described knockouts they’re well under the interesting loci that there are out there. No, I think there’s a long way to go and people are starting to use the technology more subtly now too. You know, using conditional knockouts and this sort of thing which is just opening-up whole new areas.
[AS] – Yes, the ability to spatially and temporally segregate …
[ME] – Absolutely.
[AS] – OK, well it sounds as if I may already be interrupting celebrations that are going on in the background, but do you have special plans for celebration tonight?
[ME] – No, no we don’t. We’re probably going out to the pub for a quick pub meal, since all is chaos here.
[AS] – Sounds a down to earth way to celebrate the goal in the world cup.
[ME] – Yes. OK, thank you very much.
[AS] – Thank you, bye, bye.
[ME] – Bye then.
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Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.