Anderson, W. French
W. French Anderson (1943- ), known as the “Father of Gene Therapy,” trained with Marshall Nirenberg at NIH. Anderson has a B.A. degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard, a master's degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University in England, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. As chief of the molecular hematology branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH, Anderson spent twenty-seven years doing gene therapy research. He became director of the gene therapy laboratories and professor of biochemistry and pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, and his efforts led to the first human gene therapy trials in 1990.
Merton Bernfield (1928-2002) served as a postdoctoral fellow in Marshall Nirenberg's laboratory at NIH, helping to figure out the complete genetic code. Bernfield earned his bachelor's, master's, and medical degrees at the University of Illinois and did his training in pediatrics at the Cornell Medical Center in New York City. He came to NIH in 1961 to work with Nirenberg and others in their quest to finish the coding chart. Bernfield served for twenty-two years on the faculty at Stanford University and joined the staff of Harvard Medical School in 1989 where he is a professor of pediatrics and professor of cell biology. His research has focused on how the material outside the cell affects the cell itself.
Francis Crick (1916- ) shared the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his joint discovery of the double helical shape of DNA and went on to study the brain. Crick was born in Northampton, England, and, after graduating from college, served as a scientist for the British Admiralty during World War II. He began his Ph.D. work at Cambridge University in 1947 and was still a doctoral student at the time of his and Watson's discovery of the double helix in 1953. He finished his degree in 1954. Crick went on to work on genetic coding and sequencing of amino acids in proteins, serving for much of his career at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England. He moved to California to become a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 1976.
George Gamow (1904-1968) was an astronomer, a physicist, and a contributor to the 1950s race to crack the genetic code. Born in Odessa, Russia, Gamow (GAM-off) graduated from the University of Leningrad in 1926 and earned a Ph.D. from the same university three years later. Gamow came to the United States in the summer of 1934 as a visiting fellow at the University of Michigan, and that fall he began teaching at George Washington University, where he stayed until 1956. He then served on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder until his death in 1968. Gamow, who expanded and popularized the Big Bang theory, was known for his ability to explain complex theories to students and lay audiences. He won a prize from UNESCO for popularizing science in 1956. He made great contributions to astronomy in the areas of star activity, creation of the elements, and theorizing about the genetic code. His exclusive “RNA Tie Club” entered the genetic code race in the 1950s, but none of the members were able to beat Nirenberg and Matthaei to find the answer.
Leon Heppel (1912-2010) headed a laboratory at NIH in the 1950s and helped Marshall Nirenberg with his coding research. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, Heppel came to NIH in 1942 to study the structure and metabolism of nucleic acids. He was studying RNA and DNA in the late 1950s and helped provide Nirenberg and Matthaei with synthetic RNA for their experiments. Heppel moved on to become professor of biochemistry, molecular and cell biology at Cornell University, where he is now emeritus. He has won several awards in his career and is a member of both the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Robert Holley (1922-1993) shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Marshall Nirenberg and Har Gobind Khorana and served as a professor at Cornell University and the Salk Institute. Holley graduated from the University of Illinois in 1942 and went on to earn his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Cornell in 1947. He worked at Cornell as a professor and research chemist at the United States Agricultural Laboratory and the Geneva Experimental Station until 1966, when he moved to the Salk Institute and the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California. He joined the faculty of the Salk Institute as a resident fellow and professor of molecular biology in 1968. Holley earned several awards, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 1965 and the 1968 Nobel Prize for his work on the structure of RNA.
Khorana, Har Gobind
Har Gobind Khorana (1922- ) shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Marshall Nirenberg and Robert Holley. Khorana is from Raipur, a small town in what is now Pakistan. He attended Punjab University in Lahore, India, earning a B.S. degree in 1943 and a master's two years later. Khorana then left for England, where he obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Liverpool in 1948. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Zurich, Khorana worked in India, in Cambridge, England, and at the British Columbia Research Council before settling in at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin in 1960. It was there that he did the genetic research that won him the Nobel Prize. In 1970 Khorana moved on to become professor of biology and chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his group was the first to synthesize a biologically active gene and where he determined the exact order of the nucleotides in the codon triplets.
Philip Leder (1934- ) was a postdoctoral fellow in Marshall Nirenberg's laboratory who went on to become an important researcher in the field of oncogenes (cancer causing genes). Leder earned his B.A. in biochemical science at Harvard in 1956 and graduated from medical school there in 1960. He served in Nirenberg's laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow for the Public Health Service and studied nucleic acids. He worked in the Biochemistry Department of the graduate program of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences at NIH and became director of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics there in 1972. In 1980 he moved on to become professor of genetics at Harvard and became a senior researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1986. Leder is best known for his research in understanding the genes that carry the code for cancer.
Heinrich Matthaei (1929- ) was a postdoctoral fellow at NIH in 1960 and 1961 and worked with Marshall Nirenberg on the fateful experiments to crack the genetic code. Having earned his Ph.D. in Germany in 1956, Matthaei arrived at NIH in November 1960 on a NATO Fellowship intended to give him the resources he would need to achieve cell-free protein synthesis. He joined Nirenberg's laboratory in time to work with him on the cell-free experiments using synthetic mRNA, showing that messenger RNA was the catalyst to protein synthesis. It was Matthaei who performed the particular experiment in May 1961 that showed that poly-U coded for the amino acid phenylalanine. After completing his postdoctoral fellowship at NIH, Matthaei returned to Germany and joined first the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tubingen, then the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen.
Marshall Nirenberg (1927- ) spent his entire scientific career at NIH, where he did the experiments leading to the discovery of the genetic code for which he shared the Nobel Prize in 1968. Nirenberg was born in New York City but spent much of his childhood in Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in zoology and chemistry and moved on to earn his Ph.D. in biological chemistry at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1957 he came to NIH to work as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. He earned a permanent position and spent the next several years on his work with the genetic code, which he published to great acclaim in 1961. In the subsequent years he worked with colleagues to discover the entire code for all twenty amino acids. Later, he continued his work in molecular genetics at NIH.
Singer, Maxine Frank
Maxine Frank Singer (1931- ) assisted Marshall Nirenberg in his coding research and went on to run her own laboratory at NIH and serve as president of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C. Singer graduated from Swarthmore College and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale University in 1957. After two years as a postdoctoral fellow in Leon Heppel's laboratory at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. Singer took a permanent position at NIH. She joined the Laboratory of Biochemistry in 1975 and served as chief of that laboratory from 1979 until 1988, when she became president of the Carnegie Foundation, a group that funds fundamental science research. During her term at the Carnegie Foundation, she continued to act as scientist emerita at NIH, until her laboratory finally closed in 1997.
Stetten, DeWitt, Jr.
DeWitt “Hans” Stetten Jr. (1912-1990) was the medical director of intramural research at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases in the 1950s when Marshall Nirenberg did his coding research. Stetten earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard in 1930, his M.D. at Columbia University in 1934, and his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1940. After a decade of teaching and research at both of those institutions, he moved on to the Public Health Research Institute in New York City in 1948 and to NIH in 1954. Stetten left NIH to become dean of the Medical School at Rutgers University in 1965 but returned in 1974 to become NIH Deputy Director for Science. He acted as a consultant to NIH from 1970 until his death in 1990. One of Stetten's legacies to NIH was the organization of the museum of medical research that now bears his name.
James Watson (1928- ) shared the Nobel Prize with Francis Crick in 1962 for their identification of the double helix as the shape of DNA. Watson earned his B.A. at the University of Chicago and went on to complete a Ph.D. at Indiana University in 1950. Watson met Crick when they both worked at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England. Both interested in the structure of DNA, they built the first successful model of the nucleic acid in 1953. Watson's best-selling book The Double Helix, published in 1968, recounted the years of DNA research. In 1956 Watson moved on to the biology department at Harvard, where he studied RNA. He became director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968, where he has been ever since. He has helped to make Cold Spring Harbor a center for molecular genetics and cancer research, among other topics. Watson ran the Human Genome Project at NIH from 1988 to 1992.