Previous speakers and artists
February 6-10, 2017
Why you should love bacteria
Dr. Sir Richard J. Roberts
Dr. Sir Richard John Roberts is the Chief Scientific Officer at New England Biolabs in Massachusetts/USA, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1993 for his discoveries of split genes and mRNA splicing. These discoveries completely changed the way biologists thought about genes and led to decisive progress in many fields including cancer research.
Previously, based on studies of bacterial DNA, biologists believed that genes consisted of unbroken stretches of DNA, all of which encoded protein structure. It has since been established that the discontinuous gene structure discovered by Dr. Roberts is the most common structure found in higher organisms (eukaryotes). In addition to having important implications for the study of genetic diseases this structure is believed to drive evolution by allowing information from different parts of the gene to be brought together in new combinations.
Richard J. Roberts was educated in England, attending St. Stephen's School and the City of Bath Boys' School in Bath before moving to the University of Sheffield where he obtained a B.Sc. in Chemistry in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 1968. His postdoctoral research was carried out in Prof. J.L. Strominger's laboratory at Harvard, where he studied the tRNAs that are involved in the biosynthesis of bacterial cell walls. A stay as a guest in Cambridge (GB), with Dr. Frederick Sanger (who in 1980 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the second time) directed him to the "technique" of RNA sequencing, and he succeeded in exactly determining the individual nucleotides within some tRNA molecules, beginning a passion for nucleic acid sequences.
From 1972 to 1992 Dr. Roberts worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reaching the position of Assistant Director for Research under Dr. J.D. Watson. He began work on the newly discovered Type II restriction enzymes in 1972, and in the next few years more than 100 such enzymes were discovered and characterized in Dr. Roberts' laboratory. His laboratory has cloned the genes for several restriction enzymes and their cognate methylases, and studies of these enzymes have been a major research theme.
Dr. Roberts has also been involved in studies of Adenovirus-2, beginning with studies of transcription that led to the discovery of split genes and mRNA splicing in 1977. This was followed by efforts to deduce the DNA sequence of the Adenovirus-2 genome, and a complete sequence of 35,937 nucleotides was obtained. This latter project required the extensive use of computer methods, both for the assembly of the sequence and its subsequent analysis. His laboratory pioneered the application of computers in this area, and the further development of computer methods of protein and nucleic acid sequence analysis continues to be a major research focus.
The field of DNA methyltransferases is also an area of Dr. Roberts' active research interest, and crystal
structures for the HhaI methyltransferase both alone and in complex with DNA have been obtained in
collaboration with Dr. X. Cheng. The latter complex is remarkable as the protein causes the target
cytosine base to flip completely out of the helix so that it is accessible for chemical reaction. This
extreme, but elegant distortion of the double helix had not been seen previously. A major interest of Dr.
Roberts at present is the semi-automatic identification of restriction enzyme and methylase genes within
the GenBank database and the development of rapid methods to assay their function. Most recently, his
studies have focused on DNA methyltransferases thanks to the advent of a new technique, PacBio
sequencing, which pemits the simple discovery of recognition sequences for methylases. Hundreds of
new specificities have been found as well as many enzymes that are not part of restriction systems. It
seems clear that DNA methylases play a much larger role in bacteria than is currently know. Bacteria are
engaging in epigenetics in ways that remain to be discovered.
Dr. Roberts is a Member of the Advisory Board of the International Peace Foundation since 2004, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008. Most recently he has become one of the leaders of the COMBREX project that aims to connect computational biologists with experimental biochemists to find the function of novel genes. Bioinformatic studies of microbial genomes to find new restriction systems remain a major research focus as is the elucidation of DNA methyltransferase recognition sequences using SMRT sequencing. The latter is revealing that bacteria are far more sophisticated in their use of DNA methylation than had previously been suspected.
Monday, February 6, 2017:
10:00 Dialogue with high school students at St. Andrews International School Sathorn in Bangkok
(not a public event)
14:00 Dialogue with high school students at St. Andrews International School Sukhumvit in Bangkok
(not a public event)
Wednesday, February 8, 2017:
14:00 Keynote speech and dialogue at Universitas Indonesia (University of Indonesia) in Jakarta
Information and free seat
reservation: phone/fax (021) 7888-0139, mobile (0878) 7741-1828 , email firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, February 10, 2017:
10:00 Keynote speech and dialogue at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta
Information and free seat
reservation: phone (0274) 649-1927, fax (0274) 552-810, email email@example.com