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Two Jewish Scientists Share in Nobel Prize for Chemistry …

October 16, 1980
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Two Jewish American scientists whose torebears come to the United States from the Ukraine share this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry with a British scientist for separate work involved in genetic engineering.

Paul Berg, 54, of Stanford University, was awarded half the $215.000 prize while Walter Gilbert, 48, of Harvard, split the other half with Frederick Sanger, 62, of Cambridge University.

The Swedish Academy at Science in Stockholm, which announced the prize, said Berg was cited for his biochemical studies of nucleic acids, and Gilbert and Sanger for having independently developed different methods which determine the exact sequence of the nucleotide building blocks. The Academy said Berg was the first investigator to construct a “recombinant DNA molecule” through the use of genetic engineering, sometimes called gene manipulation.

Berg, who was born in New York City, is the son of Harry Berg of Sheepshead Boy, Brooklyn, who emigrated to America in the early 1920s and became a “small manufacturer” of fur coats and tuncollars for 35 years in Manhattan. His mother was the late Sara Brodsky. They come to New York from a small town outside of Kiev.


Berg started his higher education at the City College of New York but he lasted only three days “I had to ride the subways for two hours to get to school and after three days of that I felt it was too far to go every day.” He transferred to Brooklyn College and later to Pennsylvania State University. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1959. He joined his doctorate of Case-Western Reserve in Cleveland and taught for six years at Washington University in St. Louis. He and his wife have one son, John, on actor in training.

Recalling his career in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Berg said that he grew up in the Sea Gate section of Brooklyn where he was Bar Mirzvahed. His family was “not totally Orthodox” but observant in the traditional ways. A visitor to Israel “many times, ” Berg lectured for 10 days at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth in 1971.

“Israel is on exciting place, “Berg said. “It is a miracle and an astonishing country when one sees what they have been able to achieve. In terms of science, and considering the size of the country and its population, it is most extraordinary. “


Gilbert, who was born in Boston, is the maternal grandson of the late Joseph Cohen, who was editor of the Frie Arbeiter Stimmung, an Anarchist Yiddish newspaper in New York in the early 1900s. The scientist also is the son-in-law of the Washington leftwing Journalist I.F.Stone. Gilbert and his wife Celia have a son, John, at Col Tech, and a daughter, Kate, at Harvard.

Gilbert, who said he is “enthusiastic about Israel, “said he is not identified with any organizations and has not visited Israel. “I spend most of my time being involved in science,” he told JTA. “We stopped being believers a couple of generations ago.”

Both of Gilbert’s parents were born in Philadelphia. His father, Richard, was a development economist who had worked in Pakistan in the 1960s and 1970s on a Harvard program there. He and his wife, Emma Cohen Gilbert, make their home in Green Valley, Arizona. Gilbert’s grandparents, maternal and paternal, came to the U.S. from the Ukraine in the 1890s.

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