Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Werner Arber, a Swiss molecular biologist and Nobel Prize Laureate as President of the 400 year old Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Prof. Arber is the first non-Catholic to hold this post since its foundation in 1603.
Arber’s main scientific interests are the mechanisms which promote and which limit the spontaneous variation of genetic information in micro-organisms.
. . . Some 30 Nobel laureates are members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has its roots in the Academy of the Lincei founded by Federico Cesi, a patron of the arts and sciences who also promoted Galileo’s telescope.
The institute, which gathers 80 scientific researchers from around the world, studies six major areas including fundamental sciences, bioethics as well as environmental problems.
. . . This welcome decision by Pope Benedict shows that far from being inward looking and sectarian as he is often ignorantly caricatured by the media, the Holy Father is open-minded and genuinely ecumenical.
Arber, who teaches at the University of Basel, shared a 1978 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Americans Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans, for the discovery and application of restriction enzymes.
The discovery and application of the enzymes, which are bacterial defence mechanisms against infection, led to a revolution in molecular genetics.