Arber, Werner (1929-) is a Swiss molecular biologist whose discovery of restriction enzymes helped pave the way for genetic engineering. Arber's research provided insights into how scientists could manipulate deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the strands that make up genes. For his findings, Arber shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Hamilton Othanel Smith and Daniel Nathans, two United States scientists.
Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions in living cells. Arber investigated select enzymes, known as restriction enzymes, which can slice DNA into small pieces. Because these slices retain their individual genetic coding, they have proven useful for studying the structure of DNA. These enzyme slices also have laid the foundation for gene mapping and the Human Genome Project.
The discovery of restriction enzymes led to gene splicing, a technique that allows scientists to recombine, or engineer, the small DNA pieces in different ways. Gene splicing has many applications in the biomedical field. It has shown to be promising for curing diseases such as cancer.
Genetic research has not been without controversy, however. Some people fear that genetically altered viruses could get accidentally released into the environment. To minimize the risk, Arber helped develop research safety guidelines.
In 1953, Arber graduated from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and continued his studies at the University of Geneva. After receiving his Ph.D. degree in 1958, he spent the next two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern California. He returned to Switzerland in 1960 and joined the faculty at the University of Geneva. In 1970, Arber left Geneva to spend a year as visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and in October 1971, he began a new position at the University of Basel.
Arber married in 1965. He and his wife, Antonia, have two daughters.