Richard J. Roberts

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Richard J. Roberts

Sir Richard John Roberts (born September 6, 1943 in Derby , Derbyshire ) is a British-American biochemist and molecular biologist .

In 1993 he and Phillip A. Sharp received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their identification of the discontinuous structure of some genetic make-up of cell organisms”. These mosaic genes contain so-called intron segments, which do not code for protein segments but are removed when the primary transcript is spliced . This can be done in different ways, so that identical sections of DNA can encode different proteins.


Richard ("Rich") Roberts was the only child of Edna (née Allsop) and John Roberts, an auto mechanic. At the age of 4 the family moved to Bath , where he attended St. Stephen's School and the City of Bath Boys' School . He received his first chemistry kit early on, which made him want to become a chemist. Roberts earned  a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Sheffield in 1965 and received his PhD here in 1969 with a thesis on neoflavonoids . A book by John Kendrew made him turn to biochemistry.

He accepted an offer from John Strominger, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University , where he was given the task of sequencing a tRNA and also studying the biosynthesis of the cell wall of bacteria. During the four years in Boston, he had the opportunity to visit Fred Sanger’s laboratory in Cambridge for four weeks to learn the method of RNA sequencing.

In 1972 he accepted an offer from James D. Watson to do research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory . Here he heard in a lecture by Daniel Nathans about the isolation of the first restriction enzyme , Endonuclease R, and recognized the importance of this and numerous other restriction enzymes to be discovered for molecular biology. In his laboratory he discovered and isolated more than 100 restriction enzymes. Since 1974 he has been advisor and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the private biotechnology company New England Biolabs . Together with Phil Sharp, he published mapping of the DNA of adenovirus- 2, a work that led to the discovery of split genes . Electron micrographs confirmed the unusual gene structure and thus the discovery of a new mechanism for Ad2 mRNA synthesis in mammalian cells. Roberts' discovery that an individual mRNA is encoded by DNA in separate segments called exons is a milestone in genetics and in understanding the molecular basis of the evolution of eukaryotes. The alternative splicing he discovered means that a gene can encode different proteins.

In 1992 he became Chief Scientist (CSO) at New England Biolabs, operator of the restriction enzyme database REBASE. Here he continues to research restriction enzymes and methyltransferases. The Scopus database lists him as the author of more than 250 scientific articles.

Roberts is a member of the Brights movement . He is married and has four kids. In 1992 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University and in 1994 from Bath University . In 1995 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization EMBO. In 1997 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2007 he was awarded the Gabor Medal of the Royal Society for his contribution to the discovery of splicing and for a study on the structure and genetics of restriction enzymes . In 2008 he was awarded a Knight Bachelor's degree for contributions to molecular biology and science in the UK .

An extension of the chemical faculty at the University of Sheffield and the modernized scientific wing of the Beechen Cliff School (formerly City of Bath Boys' School ) , also with his financial support, were named after him.

Commitment to Golden Rice

Robertson advocates the approval of genetically modified plants in developing countries. He is the initiator of the Mainau Declaration on Green Genetic Engineering , an open letter in which 107 Nobel Prize winners initially criticized the non-governmental organization Greenpeace for its critical stance on genetically modified golden rice . In the meantime (2018) the letter has been signed by 134 Nobel Prize winners.

Web links

Commons : Richard John Roberts  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Information from the Nobel Foundation on the 1993 award ceremony for Richard John Roberts (English)
  2. RJ Roberts: Staphylococcal transfer ribonucleic acids. II. Sequence analysis of isoaccepting glycine transfer ribonucleic acids IA and IB from Staphylococcus epidermidis Texas 26. In: The Journal of biological chemistry. Volume 249, Number 15, August 1974, pp. 4787-4796, PMID 4367807 .
  3. ^ Sir Richard John Roberts - College of Science. In: May 1, 2014, accessed November 6, 2016 .
  4. C. Mulder, JR Arrand, H. Delius, W. Keller, U. Pettersson, RJ Roberts, PA Sharp: Cleavage maps of DNA from adenovirus types 2 and 5 by restriction endonucleases EcoRI and HpaI. In: Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology. Volume 39 Pt 1, 1975, pp. 397-400, PMID 1057470 .
  5. LT Chow, RE Gelinas, TR Broker, RJ Roberts: An amazing sequence arrangement at the 5 'ends of adenovirus 2 messenger RNA. In: Cell. Volume 12, Number 1, September 1977, pp. 1-8, PMID 902310 .
  6. New England Biolabs: Leadership - NEB. In: Retrieved November 6, 2016 .
  7. RJ Roberts, T. Vincze, J. Posfai, D. Macelis: REBASE - a database for DNA restriction and modification: enzymes, genes and genomes. In: Nucleic Acids Research. 43, 2015, p. D298, doi : 10.1093 / nar / gku1046 .
  8. ^ Honorary doctorates - Uppsala University, Sweden. In: Retrieved November 5, 2016 (Swedish).
  9. ^ Honorary Graduates 1989 to present - University of Bath. In: Retrieved November 5, 2016 .
  10. Juliette Irmer: Green genetic engineering: "Greenpeace has failed" . In: FAZ.NET . ISSN  0174-4909 ( [accessed July 7, 2018]).
  11. Laureates Letter Supporting Precision Agriculture (GMOs) | Support Precision Agriculture. Retrieved July 7, 2018 .
  12. Open letter to Greenpeace: 107 Nobel Prize winners demand an end to the anti-genetic engineering campaign . In: Future Trends . ( [accessed on July 7, 2018]).
  13. Laureates Supporting Precision Agriculture (GMOs) | Support Precision Agriculture. Retrieved July 7, 2018 .