Richard John Roberts was born in 1943 in Derby, England. He gained a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Sheffield in 1968, and moved to the US to perform post-doctoral work at Harvard.
Whilst he was there he was invited by James Watson (a Noble prize winner and controversial DNA specialist) to join him at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. There they worked together with much success on the development of restriction enzymes and the isolation of DNA molecules. However, Roberts was keen to set up a business model that would sell the restriction enzymes which Watson declined citing a lack of financial promise to warrant the venture.
Roberts was also very much in favour of using computer technology to further their capabilities for research while Watson was not. Eventually this lack of creative harmony would encourage Roberts to move to New England Biolabs who were already in the process of marketing restriction enzymes, and his previous experience and knowledge of the subject quickly saw him made Chief Consultant. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Prize (shared with Philip A. Sharp) in Physiology and Medicine for his work in the discovery of introns in DNA and gene splicing techniques.
The Nobel honours were somewhat controversial for not recognising his collaborators at Cold Harbor, Louise T. Chow and Tom Broker, who helped design and conduct the experiments that led to their breakthrough.
Roberts still conducts research into the structure of DNA today, and most recently received a Knighthood in 2008 as recognition of his groundbreaking discoveries. More dubious acknowledgement of his work came from “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski in 1995, who sent a letter threatening Robert’s life if he did not stop his research.