Pure science research 'worth it'

Pure science research 'worth it'

Molecular biologist and visiting Nobel laureate pushes for results

Dr Sir Richard Roberts, molecular biologist
Dr Sir Richard Roberts, molecular biologist

A Nobel Prize awardee says putting more money on pure science research and development is worth it due to the unexpected results that could end up changing the world or, in the very least, turn out to be a good commercial business.

Speaking with the Bangkok Post during his recent visit to Bangkok as a keynote speaker at the Japan-Asean Bridges event, Nobel laureate Dr Sir Richard Roberts -- who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1993 -- said pure science, including molecular biology, has taken a long experimental period to get results.

The study of pure sciences needs time, investment, and strong support from the government to achieve good outcomes.

"It is difficult sometimes to do scientific research. If you are saying something different, you have to ensure it is accurate and backed with good evidence. We know that nature is trying to tell us something," he said.

"If you support pure science, it might lead to a discovery of something that people may have never known before. Biology is a great area to spend money on. And in the future, it could be easily diverted into a good commercial business."

Dr Roberts' achievement was related to the discovery of split genes and mRNA splicing. He began work on the newly discovered Type II restriction enzymes in 1972. A few years later, more than 100 such enzymes were discovered and characterised in his laboratory, which sequenced the 35,937 nucleotide Adenovirus-2 genome and wrote some of the first programmes for sequence assembly and analysis.

His discovery completely changed the way biologists thought about genes and led to decisive progress in many fields -- including cancer research.

His discovery, he added, was later expanded for research and development by his young partners, who fixed the problem caused by the previous defective mechanism, which finally led to better and more effective medical treatment and longer lives for patients.

It also included the development of Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) technology for a quick diagnosis of elephantiasis disease, leading to easy-to-use kits such as the Covid-19 rapid test kit. It is beneficial for health workers working in the African region, where the disease is still very active.

"I am not a big fan of the Nobel Prize. I think people should have a passion for the things that they want to do and put in strong efforts to make it better. The Nobel prize should not be the top priority, but it might arrive to you if you are lucky," he said.

Dr Roberts is among nine Nobel Laureates in Economics, Physics, Chemistry and Medicine who will be visiting Thailand from November to March 2024 under the event of Japan-Asean Bridges, which is organised by the International Peace Foundation.

It aims at supporting education in Thailand and promoting the country as a hub for science, technology and innovation.

He is the first visiting Nobel Laureate and delivered his speech at the Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok.

This article is part of a series by the 'Bangkok Post' featuring interviews with Nobel laureates across various fields. These laureates will be in Thailand from November 2023 to March 2024, participating alongside other distinguished keynote speakers at the Japan-Asean Bridges event organised by the International Peace Foundation. The event commemorates the 50th anniversary of official relations between Japan and Asean.

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