Stars in the Nobel firmament

Published: Monday 15 November 1993

THIS YEAR'S Nobel prize -- worth $825,000 -- for physiology and medicine has been awarded jointly to UK's Richard Roberts and USA's Phillip Sharp for their 1977 discovery of "split genes". The discovery took everybody by surprise because till then, the gene had been thought indivisible. The two scientists made the discovery independently while studying the common cold virus. The discovery offered fresh insights into how genes evolved in higher organisms and opened up a new line of attack on the cause of cancer and other diseases, particularly inherited ones.

Roberts, 50, is research director at New England Biolabs in Massachusetts, while his American co-awardee is head of the department of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pulsar discovery
The Nobel prize for physics has been won by Princeton University's Russel A Hulse and Joseph H Taylor Jr for their 1974 discovery of a new type of pulsar (pulsating star) which opened new possibilities for the study of gravitation.

USA's Kary B Mullis, inventor of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, is one of the two scientists chosen for the chemistry prize. PCR was a revolutionary finding because using it, a molecular biologist can make more than a million copies of a DNA sample in a short while. Mullis is working as director of a San Diego-based biotech firm called Xytronyx Inc.

Mullis shares the prize with Canada's Michael Smith, who has been felicitated for his work on a method for altering DNA to determine its function. This allows better understanding of hereditary diseases. Smith is director of the biotechnology laboratory at the University of British Columbia.

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