ggenetic engineering uses enzymes to carefully modify genetic material. This line of study has led to more resilient and healthier food crops, mass production of insulin, and new vaccines, and it’s all possible thanks to the work done by biochemist Paul Berg, who became the first to use recombinant DNA. Berg died Feb. 15 at age 96.
Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1926, Berg developed a love for science in college, according to The New York Times. In his Nobel Foundation BiographyBerg talks about being inspired to pursue a career in research by Sophie Wolfe, who managed the supply room for his high school science classes and encouraged him to do the ‘addictive’ job of finding science himself. answers.
Berg enlisted in the United States Navy after high school, at the height of World War II. He was able to take biochemistry courses at Penn State University while awaiting naval training. Berg returned to Penn State after the war and earned a degree in biochemistry in 1948. He then attended graduate school at Western Reserve University (now known as Case Western Reserve University), earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1952. In his Nobel biography, Berg states that he had not heard of the school until attending and became aware of its existence – and ultimately decided to attend – based on published articles by researchers there.
His postgraduate work focused on enzymes. He broke new ground by discovering the need for vitamin B12 and folic acid in the process known as one-carbon metabolism, which occurs in the mitochondria and cytoplasm and enables many cellular functions.
Berg’s career became nomadic after graduating for a few years, and he worked in Copenhagen, Cambridge, and St. Louis. During this time, he discovered an enzyme necessary for the assembly of nucleic acids, which shifted his attention to genetics.
In 1959, he took a job at the burgeoning college of Stanford University. biochemistry department, which became his main research residence for the rest of his career. He held many roles at the university, including chairman of the department for five years in the early 1970s and director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine from 1985 to 2000, when he retired in as professor emeritus.
“I cannot overstate Paul’s genius, compassion and enthusiasm for discovery,” said Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. university announcement of Berg’s death. “The joy of discovery has motivated Paul throughout his career, and he has generously given of his time to instill that joy in countless people.”
The research for which Berg would become best known was published in 1972. His team successfully inserted a segment of DNA from Escherichia coli in the simian virus 40 genome and produces a functional gene. This development became the dawn of genetic engineering and enabled scientists to make advancements in agriculture, medicine, etc.
Once reached, however, it urged scientists proceed with caution until the technique is determined to be safe. Throughout the 1970s and beyond, he got together with other scientists to try to harness the technology and advocate for its responsible use.
In 1980, Berg received half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, particularly with regard to recombinant DNA”, and Walter Gilbert and Federick Sanger shared the other half.
Besides the Nobel Prize, Berg has received numerous honors throughout his career. In 1966, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Then-President Ronald Reagan presented Berg with the National Medal of Science in 1983. A collection of his work known as “Paul Berg’s paperswas organized by the National Library of Medicine.
He was predeceased by his wife of nearly 75 years in 2021. He is survived by his son, John.