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Is it me… or my genes?


The winner of the 2005 EMBO Science Writing Prize is Edwin Harold Rydberg of the Istituto di Ricerche di Biologia Molecolare (IRBM) P. Angeletti in Rome, Italy. The theme of the competition was ‘genes and behaviour’ and the winning entry deals with an area widely studied in behavioural genetics – the commonly misunderstood condition of schizophrenia. Rydberg’s elegant narrative reveals the personal impact of this distressing condition and the difference understanding the biology behind a condition can make to patients and their families.

The EMBO Science Writing Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding piece of science writing that effectively communicates a topical issue to a non-scientific audience. This year’s winning entry, aptly entitled Through The Illusions, communicates some of the subtleties and complexities behind the study of schizophrenia with clarity and sensitivity. The essay also focuses on the fascinating connection between changes in DNA, smoking and schizophrenia.

Asked to elaborate on the inspiration behind his entry, Rydberg explained that the idea was born of a minor project carried out as part of a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Joel Sussman at the Weizmann Institute in Israel: “During the study of the human alpha7 acetylcholine receptor, I learned of the interesting connection between smoking, the alpha7 receptor and schizophrenia. This seemed such an unusual and unexpected combination of factors that it has remained with me ever since.”

Rydberg’s time at the Weizmann institute also awakened his interest in popular science writing and science fiction. Rydberg commented, “The EMBO contest was not only an excellent opportunity to tell the interesting story of the alpha7 receptor, but it also provided a forum for practising and evaluating my writing.” The winning entry represents Rydberg’s first foray into the world of science writing – a resounding success for the new author.

The EMBO Science Writing Prize and an award of 1,500 Euro were presented to the winner at the EMBO Media Workshop in Heidelberg, Germany

Lindsay Johnson | alfa
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