Chain reaction leads to Nobel Prize

From Pathway magazine, Autumn 2008:
Six months before the 1993 Nobel Prizes were due to be announced, Kary Mullis’ mentor, University of California Berkley biochemist Joe Neilands, suggested to him that “you’d make it easier for the [Nobel] committee to give it to you if you didn’t talk to the press so much”. Not that Mullis’ work was in any way controversial – far from it. He had developed the polymerase chain reaction; a technique for amplifying segments of DNA that was soon to revolutionise molecular biology.
What had Neilands on edge was his protege’s openness about his use of LSD, and to a lesser extent, his enthusiastically proclaimed fondness for women and surfing. Thankfully, the Nobel Committee saw fit to overlook these apparent transgressions, and in 1993 awarded Mullis the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the polymerase chain reaction.
Mullis is an intriguing character. Raised on a farm in rural North Carolina, he studied chemistry then completed a PhD and lectured in biochemistry, before joining biotechnology company Cetus Corporation as a DNA chemist. While working here, he made the discoveries that led to the polymerase chain reaction. But far more interestingly, he has also been tabled as an expert witness in the O.J Simpson murder case (although was never called to the stand), he has stirred controversy with his views on climate change and the link between HIV and AIDS, he has been quite forthcoming about his use of LSD in Berkley during the 60s and 70s, apparently believes in astrology, and is a keen surfer.
Kary Mullis’ entire Nobel autobiography is unusually dedicated to a portrayal of his family and upbringing. At the very end of the document, a single, brief sentence acknowledges his momentous role in scientific history: “I worked as a consultant, got the Nobel Prize, and have now turned to writing. It is 1994.”
What this sentence fails to capture is the significance of his discovery, and why it was judged worthy of one of science’s greatest accolades. “It has been absolutely transformative,” says microbiologist Dr David Smith, Head of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at PathWest Laboratory Medicine WA. More in magazine.

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