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Nobelist James Watson headlines celebration of DNA & biotech

– Five Nobel laureates, including James Watson, will join the founders of four of the world's most innovative biotechnology companies on Saturday, Oct. 11, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA and the biotechnology industry it spawned.

The day-long symposium, "The Double Helix and Biotech: 50 Years of Innovation," at the University of California, Berkeley, will be the first big celebration of the anniversary in the Bay Area, the birthplace of the biotech industry.

The symposium will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Pauley Ballroom of the Martin Luther King Student Union Building (note location change). The event is free, but attendees should register in advance to ensure a seat. Online registration and details of the program are on the Web.

 James D. Watson
James D. Watson, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,
who won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for his discovery with Francis Crick of
the structure of DNA..
(Credit: Mason's of Cambridge)

Far more than a look back, the day's discussions will focus on how the remarkable confluence of theory and reality is paying real dividends for patients today, and will look ahead at what we can expect from cancer, heart and other basic research in the future.

"There would be no biotechnology sector without the structure of the double helix, but at the same time, the full implications of the double helix would not have been realized without the biotech industry," said symposium organizer Robert Tjian, professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and co-founder of Tularik Inc., which is sponsoring the symposium along with UC Berkeley and Genentech, Inc.

"The discovery of the double helix and its translation into application by the biotechnology industry has revolutionized biology and improved the lives of countless thousands of patients," he added.

"It is a great pleasure and honor for Genentech, as the founder of the biotech industry, to be a part of this event celebrating the discovery of the double helix," said Richard Scheller, executive vice president of research at Genentech. "Everyday we witness the impact of this phenomenal discovery as our scientists work to find new biotherapeutics that address significant unmet medical needs."

In morning and afternoon sessions, Nobelists J. Michael Bishop, Michael Brown, Joseph Goldstein and Leland Hartwell, plus Stanford University biologist Charles Yanofsky and Charles Weissmann of Britain's Medical Research Council, will discuss current research in cancer, heart disease, prion diseases and basic molecular biology, and the debt their fields owe to the discovery of DNA's double helix structure.

In a late morning panel discussion, Genentech co-founder Herbert Boyer, Tularik co-founder David Goeddel, Chiron Corp. co-founder Edward Penhoet and Biogen co-founder Charles Weissmann will share their insights into how the theoretical brilliance of the discovery of the double helix combined with far-sighted vision to spawn an entire industry. The discussion will be moderated by Shereen El Feki, healthcare correspondent for The Economist.

Nobel Laureate and double helix co-discoverer James Watson will end the day with his reflections on the discovery he made with Francis Crick in 1953.

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