Sir Paul Nurse - the geneticist in search of his own genetics

Last Updated: Monday, December 23, 2013 - 18:28

New Delhi: Born to a family of low financial and educational background in Norfolk, United Kingdom, Paul Maxime Nurse, was fascinated by stars in the sky, nature, birds and animals and dreamt of becoming an astronomer or study natural history.

Gravitated into the mysteries that science unravelled to him, Paul went on to study the subject and ultimately genetics. At one point of time while doing his PhD, Nurse wanted to run away and pursue sociology or philosophy. But he returned to his first love - science to pursue his own "curiosity, to study what it is that inspires you and motivates you."

Knighted in 1999 to become Sir Paul Nurse, the geneticist has only one regret. His family kept his own genetics a secret - he believed his grandparents as his parents and mother as his sister. Paul was born to his unwed mother and the family kept the birth of the boy a secret and his grandparents played the role of his parents to save their daughter from ignominy. Until a few years ago, Sir Paul Nurse, now 64, did not know the secret - by that time, his grandparents and mother, were no more.

"My family kept my own genetics completely a secret," Nurse told the Indian Science Journal (ISJ) in an interview recently, while on a visit to New Delhi to deliver the Blackett Memorial Lecture.

Nurse shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology with Leland H. Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division of cells in the cell cycle.

The secret in his life was discovered following the rejection of his application for a green card by the United States, well after becoming Nobel Laureate and the fact he was a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His application did not have the names of his parents. It was then, he probed his parentage and discovered the truth.

"I don`t know who my father is," Sir Paul Nurse told ISJ, "I would like to know who my father is, and jocularly added, "I would like now to have an hour`s conversation across the grave of my mother to discuss it."

Known for his radical views on scientific subjects, Sir Paul termed the opposition of some political leaders, including those in India, to genetically modified (GM) crops, as "irresponsible."

"We don`t want cowardly politicians, who simply are thinking what the easy course is," said the angry cell biologist, while talking about political opposition to GM crops and termed such political stance as "anti-Science."
Nurse, who heads the Royal Society - said he is planning to hold an international conference in Bangalore next year at the aegis of the scientific body, which at one time was the Academy of Sciences for India also under the British Empire.

"I am resurrecting a Royal Society Commonwealth Conference. It will be held for the first time in 30 years at Bangalore next year. It is symbolic gesture to respect Indian scientists," said Nurse.

ANI

First Published: Monday, December 23, 2013 - 18:28

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