Francis H. C. Crick
When Francis Crick (1916 - 2004) was growing up in England, he received a children's
encyclopedia from his parents, which exposed him to the world of science.
His fascination with this world has continued throughout his life. He received
his college degree in physics and was starting graduate school when the
World War II began. During the war, Crick worked on weapons for the British
Admiralty. He was in his late 20s by the time the war ended, but he decided
to go back to school for a PhD. Around the same time, he read a book that
inspired him to begin studying biology. He went to the Cavendish Laboratory
of Cambridge University to pursue this interest by studying proteins.
In 1951, James Watson arrived at Cavendish, and the two began the collaboration
that would lead to the discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. Before
Crick received his PhD, he completed the work that would earn him a Nobel
Prize. Since 1976, Crick has been at the Salk Institute in California, where
he investigates topics such as the origin of life and consciousness.
James D. Watson
As a boy, James Watson was already very interested in science, particularly
in birds. Watson's interest in DNA grew out of a desire, first picked up
as a senior in college, to learn about the gene.
By the time he got into graduate school at Indiana University, he decided
that if he was going to understand genes, he needed to understand the simplest
form of life bacteria. He then headed off to Europe, as a postdoctoral fellow,
to learn more about biochemistry and bacteriophages.
In 1951, he wound up at the Cavendish Laboratory, where he met Francis Crick.
In 1953, Watson and Crick sparked a revolution with their discovery of the
helical structure of the DNA molecule. Watson was only 25 years old when
their findings were published. And he was only 34 when he was awarded the
Nobel Prize. Since 1968, Watson has served as director of Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory, a research institute for molecular biology.
Herbert W. Boyer
When Herbert Boyer was 12 years old, he thought he wanted to be a professional
football player. Then, when he got to high school, Boyer's football coach,
who also was Boyer's science teacher, helped change Boyer's mind. Boyer
discovered that he enjoyed doing experiments as much as he liked throwing
passes. He went to St. Vincent's College to study biology and chemistry,
and found out, his junior year, about a new field called bacterial genetics.
He later received both his MS and PhD degrees in bacteriology. By 1966,
Boyer had found his way to California, where he began work as an assistant
professor at the University of California San Francisco. It was at UCSF
that he began modifying DNA. In 1972, Boyer met Stanley Cohen, and together
they pioneered the field of recombinant DNA.
Their work led to the founding of biotechnology firms such as Genentech,
which Boyer co-founded in 1976 with Robert Swanson. Boyer is now a professor
emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF.
Stanley N. Cohen
Stanley Cohen grew up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a little town about
30 miles from New York City. As a boy, he was interested in atomic physics,
but a biology teacher in high school inspired his interest in genetics.
He went on to study biology and then medicine. In 1968, Cohen went to Stanford
University to work as both a researcher and a physician. It was there that
he began to explore the field of bacterial plasmids.
He wanted to understand how the genes on plasmids could make bacteria resistant
to antibiotics. In 1972, Cohen's investigations, combined with those of
Herbert Boyer, led to the development of methods to combine and transplant
genes. This discovery signalled the birth of genetic
engineering. Today, Cohen is a professor of genetics and medicine at
Stanford, where he works on a variety of scientific problems including cell
growth and development.