I did my best work 50 years ago, says Nobel winner Gurdon (Update)

October 8, 2012

British scientist John Gurdon, awarded the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday with Japan's Shinya Yamanaka for work in cell programming, said he was "immensely grateful and astonished."

British scientist John Gurdon, awarded the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday, admitted on Monday that he had done the bulk of the cell programming work for which he was honoured half a century ago.

The 79-year-old, with a shock of swept-back greying blond hair, held a hastily-arranged press conference in London, just hours after being telephoned by the Nobel academy with the news of his award.

He told reporters his ground-breaking work "was essentially to show that all the different cells of the body have the same genes.

"The work that I did was to test that proposition. In the 1950s we really didn't know.

"The outcome was that they do. That means that, in principle, you should be able to derive any one kind of cell from another because they've all got the same genes.

"That was the contribution I made at that time. Some people say, 'that was done 50 years ago, have you been sitting round gardening ever since?'"

Gurdon, who shared the Nobel with Japan's Shinya Yamanaka for work in cell programming, said he was "immensely honoured" by the award.

Walking in carrying a black leather briefcase and wearing a blue jumper over a blue-and-white check shirt, Gurdon, who uses hearing aids, had a glint in his eye as he surveyed the bank of microphones before him.

"I am immensely honoured to be awarded this spectacular recognition, and delighted to be due to receive it with Shinya Yamanaka, whose work has brought the whole field within the realistic expectation of therapeutic benefits," he said.

"It is particularly pleasing to see how purely basic research, originally aimed at testing the genetic identity of different cell types in the body, has turned out to have clear human health prospects."

An early riser who still works full time, Gurdon said he was in his lab at 8:30am when "a very nice man from the Swedish academy called up and said 'we've decided to award you this prize'.

"He said enough things to make me believe he was in fact the right person—because you can always have people pulling your leg.

"If you stop the random person in the street, they might just have heard of the Nobel Prize. It has to be ranked as perhaps the most important scientific award."

He said the bulk of the work he has been recognised for was done in 1958 but was not published until 1962.

Gurdon, an emeritus professor of developmental biology at the University of Cambridge, might never have made it had his school tutors and the army had their way.

His schoolmaster said it would be a "total waste of time" for all concerned if he studied science, while his mother and doctor got him out of two years' national service by playing up a cold as a touch of bronchitis.

Gurdon said he would likely put his prize money towards helping doctorate students to stay on for a fourth year.

He said the institute named after him at Cambridge was planning to hold a drinks party for him at 6:00 pm, but he was nonetheless planning to be back in the lab early on Tuesday.

Explore further: Obesity or stem cell research could win Nobel

Related Stories

Obesity or stem cell research could win Nobel

October 2, 2011
Two scientists who unlocked some of the mysteries linked to obesity or a professor who figured out how to make stem cells without human embryos could be candidates for the medicine award when the first of the 2011 Nobel Prizes ...

Nobel prize to Briton, Japanese for stem cell work (Update 4)

October 8, 2012
Two scientists from different generations won the Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for the groundbreaking discovery that cells in the body can be reprogrammed into completely different kinds, work that reflects the mechanism ...

Medicine prize kicks off Nobel week

October 8, 2012
The 2012 Nobel Prize season opens Monday with the award for medicine, marking the start of a week of announcements and speculation over who will collect the literature and peace prizes.

Linux creator, stem cell scientist win big technology prize

June 13, 2012
US-Finnish software engineer Linus Torvalds, who created the Linux open source operating system, and Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka on Wednesday won a 1.2-million-euro technology prize in Finland.

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.