December 13, 2010

The irony was not lost on him

Professor Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize-winning geneticist whose life's work has been to understand the role played by DNA, has become the new president of the Royal Society, a fellowship of the world's most eminent scientists.

A man of extraordinary accomplishments, only by chance did this Nobel prize-winning geneticist discover that his sister was really his mother.

the irony was not lost on him.

‘I’ve always been interested in my own genetic make-up because I was always the odd one out in my family. But even though I’m an expert my family managed to keep my genetic origins secret from me for over half a century,’ he says, smiling wryly. ‘The people I thought were my parents weren’t my parents at all.’

The revelation came when Sir Paul, now 61, applied to the US Department of Homeland Security for a green card which would allow him permanent residence in the US. At the time he had been living in America for three years and was president of New York’s Rockefeller University, so when his application was turned down he was surprised. He was told there was a problem with the short-form version of his birth certificate, which did not contain the names of his parents, so he applied for a fuller version.

‘When it arrived my secretary asked me if I’d made a mistake with my mother’s name. I said, “Of course not.” She handed it to me and for the next few seconds I was totally dumbstruck.

‘I saw that next to the word “mother” was my sister Miriam’s name, and next to “father” was just a dash. I didn’t believe it at first: I assumed it was a bureaucratic mix-up.’

He did not immediately grasp the implications until his wife, Anne, suggested that perhaps his parents were really his grandparents.

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 13, 2010 10:20 AM | Permalink