The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - I VAN SEMENIUK

Born in Black­pool, Eng­land, Michael Smith came to Canada in 1956 af­ter earn­ing his PhD in chem­istry. Look­ing for a way into the re­search com­mu­nity, his path led to Har Gorbind Kho­rana, then a lead­ing bio­chemist at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia. At the time, sci­en­tists were just be­gin­ning to per­ceive how liv­ing cells ac­cess the ge­netic in­for­ma­tion that is en­coded in their DNA in or­der to build pro­teins. Kho­rana, who moved to the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin in 1960, would later win a No­bel Prize for his role in un­der­stand­ing the process. Smith ini­tially fol­lowed Kho­rana to the United States, but soon re­turned to Van- cou­ver to work for the fed­eral govern­ment. While pub­lish­ing pa­pers on fish science at the Fish­eries Re­search Board, he con­tin­ued to pur­sue his in­ter­est in ge­net­ics. By the 1970s, Smith was at UBC work­ing out how to swap nu­cleo­tides – the tiny mol­e­cules that serve as the in­di­vid­ual let­ters in the ge­netic code. His No­bel-win­ning method, known as site­spe­cific mu­ta­ge­n­e­sis, al­lowed sci­en­tists to study protein func­tion and the mech­a­nisms be­hind can­cer and other gene-re­lated dis­eases. It also set the stage for a new gen­er­a­tion of gene-edit­ing tools that are now trans­form­ing the life sci­ences.


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