[Unpublished draft of introduction to the Nobel speech]
In this draft, Nirenberg emphasizes the rapidity of change in genetic research and is gracious for the contributions of others.
He predicts a new area of research in genetics called molecular evolution, in which effects of synthesized genes on the economy
of the cell will be explored. Nirenberg claims we are at a point of a new biological evolution--a time in which the brain
will eventually establish direct communication with the gene.
Number of Image Pages:
3 (179,066 Bytes)
1968-12-05 (December 5, 1968)
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of Marshall W. Nirenberg.
Truly remarkable progress has been made in the field of molecular genetics during the last ten or 15 years. The field should
continue to advance rapidly during the foreseeable future.
Alternative paragraph: The field of molecular genetics is advancing at an incredibly rapid rate and it seems probable that
the field will continue to advance perhaps even more rapidly during the foreseeable future. The new knowledge has had relatively
little effect upon man thus far.
The field of molecular genetics has advanced with remarkable rapidity and should continue to do so during the foreseeable
future. The immediate effect of the new knowledge is to open up new areas for exploration so I think it probable that the
field will continue to advance quite rapidly in the foreseeable future.
During the 1930s physicists realized that the release of nuclear energy was theoretically certain, but they doubted whether
it would be of practical interest. Because of this uncertainty, physicists did little to inform society of what might come.
When the power became reality, society was unprepared intellectually and institutionally to deal with it. The scientist therefore
The field of molecular genetics has advanced with remarkable rapidity, due to the efforts of investigators in virtually every
field of science. One may speculate about probable future developments and about how the new knowledge will affect the eternal
questions of who we are and where we are going. The phenomenon of transformation has been studied in considerable detail
and it is clear that cells can be transformed genetically by DNA prepared from natural sources. The new information can be
inherited by the descendants of the recipient cells. We know that the machinery of the cell will accept and follow instructions
that are written in the appropriate molecular language. The language is now deciphered, so in theory, at least, one can compose
new genetic messages of known information content. Simple genetic messages can be synthesized chemically, largely due to
the pioneering studies of Gobind Khorana and his colleagues.
It seems probable that mechanisms of storing and recalling genetic information evolved a billion or more years ago, perhaps
during the transition from a cellular to the cellular form of life. Later, as single cells evolved into more complex multicellular
organisms, the nervous system evolved. The genes obviously contain the information that ultimately gives rise to the brain.
At this time a new biological cycle is evolving, for it should be possible within the near future to synthesize genetic messages
and then to use them to program cells. We know that the gene ultimately continues the information that is responsible for
the formation of brain. It seems likely that man eventually will be able to instruct his own cells, and ultimately, influence
his own biological evolution. One can predict that a new area of research will emerge during the next 25 years, that of molecular
evolution, in which the effects of synthetic genes upon the economy of the cell will be explored in a systematic fashion.
It seems likely that men eventually will be able to instruct his own cells, and ultimately, influence his own biological evolution.
We are at this point in time the final stages of a new biological cycle is evolving, a cycle in which the brain, which ultimately
is derived from the gene, will, within a relatively short time, establish direct communication with the gene.