Werner Arber

Werner Arber

Werner Arber (2014)
Born (1929-06-03) 3 June 1929
Nationality Swiss
Fields Microbiology
Institutions University of Geneva, University of Basel, University of Southern California
Known for restriction endonucleases
Notable awards 1978, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Werner Arber, who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, attending the Premios Rey Jaime events in Valencia in June 2016.

Werner Arber (born 3 June 1929, Gränichen, Aargau)[1] is a Swiss microbiologist and geneticist. Along with American researchers Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans, Werner Arber shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of restriction endonucleases. Their work would lead to the development of recombinant DNA technology.

Life and career

Arber studied chemistry and physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich from 1949 to 1953. Late in 1953 he took an assistantship for electron microscopy at the University of Geneva, in time left the electron microscope, went on to research bacteriophages and write his dissertation on defective lambda prophage mutants. In his Nobel Autobiography, he writes:

In the summer of 1956, we learned about experiments made by Larry Morse and Esther and Joshua Lederberg on the lambda-mediated transduction (gene transfer from one bacterial strain to another by a bacteriophage serving as vector) of bacterial determinants for galactose fermentation. Since these investigators had encountered defective lysogenic strains among their transductants, we felt that such strains should be included in the collection of lambda prophage mutants under study in our laboratory. Very rapidly, thanks to the stimulating help by Jean Weigle and Grete Kellenberger, this turned out to be extremely fruitful. [...] This was the end of my career as an electron microscopist and in chosing genetic and physiological approaches I became a molecular geneticist.

He received his doctorate in 1958 from the University of Geneva.

Arber then worked at the University of Southern California in phage genetics with Gio ("Joe") Bertani starting in the summer of 1958.[2] Late in 1959 he accepted an offer to return to Geneva at the beginning of 1960, but only after spending "several very fruitful weeks"[1] at each of the laboratories of Gunther Stent (University of California, Berkeley), Joshua Lederberg and Esther Lederberg[3] (Stanford University) and Salvador Luria (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Back at the University of Geneva, Arber worked in a laboratory in the basement of the Physics Institute, where he carried out productive research and hosted "a number of first class graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and senior scientists."[1] In 1965 the University of Geneva promoted him to Extraordinary Professor for Molecular Genetics. In 1971, after spending a year as a visiting professor in the Department of Molecular Biology of the University of California in Berkeley, Arber moved to the University of Basel. In Basel, he was one of the first persons to work in the newly constructed Biozentrum, which housed the departments of biophysics, biochemistry, microbiology, structural biology, cell biology and pharmacology and was thus conducive to interdisciplinary research.

Werner Arber is member of the World Knowledge Dialogue Scientific Board and of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 1981. In 1981, Arber became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984.[5] Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on January 2011, making him the first Protestant to hold the position.[6]

Personal life

Arber is married and has two daughters.

On his religious views, Arber has showed himself a theistic evolutionist, stating "The most primitive cells may require at least several hundred different specific biological macromolecules. How such already quite complex structures may have come together, remains a mystery to me. The possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God, represents to me a satisfactory solution to this problem."[7] In addition he has affirmed: "I know that the concept of God helped me to master many questions in life; it guides me in critical situations, and I see it confirmed in many deep insights into the beauty of the functioning of the world."[8]


  1. 1 2 3 "Werner Arber - Autobiography". Nobelprize.org. 1929-06-03. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  2. "Arber, Werner". Cartage.org.lb. 1929-06-03. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  3. Again from Arber's Nobel Autobiography: "One of the first experiments after my return to Geneva was to render E. coli B and its radiation resistant strain B/r sensitive to phage lambda. The first step to accomplish this was easy thanks to a hint received from Esther Lederberg to look for cotransduction of the Ma1+ and lambdaS characters."
  4. "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  5. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  6. "Vatican appoints Protestant as scientific body's head - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos". Newsinfo.inquirer.net. 2011-01-16. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  7. Arber, W. 1992. The Existence of a Creator Represents a Satisfactory Solution. In Margenau, H. and R. A. Varghese (eds.), Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo sapiens. La Salle, IL: Open Court, p. 141-142.
  8. Arber, W. 1992. The Existence of a Creator Represents a Satisfactory Solution. In Margenau, H. and R. A. Varghese (eds.), Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo sapiens. La Salle, IL: Open Court, p. 143.

Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Nicola Cabibbo
President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
15 January 2011 –
Succeeded by
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