Humanity Could Not Have Made Progress Without these 7 Biologists

Man has always worked hard to enhance the various facets of human life. Biologists in the past centuries have made a significant contribution towards unfolding the mysteries of human body. These life sciences researchers have adopted a futuristic approach to become the pioneers of change for the progress of human society. Certainly, our society would not been a better place without the contributions of these eminent personalities. This article highlights the valuable contribution of seven such biologists that have revealed revolutionary scientific discoveries benefiting humanity.

FREDERICK BANTING

Biography

     Fredrick Banting took birth near Alliston, Ontario, Canada on Nov 19, 1891. He completed his schooling from Alliston, and went on to pursue a medical degree from Divinity College, and graduated to become a doctor in 1916. In his urge to serve the country during the First World War, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. In 1941, Banting died in a plane crash.

Contribution

     Banting assumed that if the hormonal secretions of Islets of Langerhans (a part of the pancreas) were extractable, it could act as a controlling agent for diabetes. Along with his assistant Charles Best, Banting started his experiments on dogs by suppressing their pancreatic activity while Islets of Langerhans were allowed to produce insulin. The extracted insulin was injected into a diabetic dog which brought its blood sugar levels down, proving Banting’s assumptions correct. To make Insulin fit for human use; it was later purified and refined by James Collip. The purified Insulin was first tested on a 14-year-old kid suffering from Juvenile Diabetes and the results were encouraging. In 1923, Banting received the noble prize for his remarkable discovery which he later shared with Charles Best and he has been the first Canadian to receive a Nobel prize since its inception in 1901.

Significance of Work

     The Discovery of Insulin enlightened the hopes of millions suffering from Diabetes and this important discovery made Banting a living legend globally.

SIDNEY ALTMAN

Biography

     Sidney Altman took birth in Montreal, Canada in the year 1939. Altman graduated from MIT, Boston in Physics. He was introduced to Molecular Biology during his last semester at MIT, which fascinated him towards molecular genetics. Altman decided to enroll himself as a student of Biophysics at the University of Colorado while taking a summer course in Physics. He went on to finish his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Colorado.

Contribution

     Until 1989, RNA was believed to be a hereditary material only, but the work of Sidney Altman unleashed its capability as a “Biocatalyst.” While experimenting on an enzyme, Altman found that it was not a typical enzyme, but made up of two strands, one protein and other RNA. He further concluded that the catalytic activity was due to the RNA strand and not the protein strand. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989 for his outstanding discovery that RNA could function as a biocatalyst in addition to being a hereditary material.

Significance of Work

     The concept propounded by Altman has opened the doors to develop a catalytic RNA based vaccine that could fight the common cold virus.

CHARLES HUGGINS

Biography

     Charles Huggins was born in the year in 1901, in Nova Scotia, a Canadian Province. He completed his graduation in B. A and went to the Harvard School of Medicine to pursue a medical degree which he completed in 1924. He moved to the University of Chicago as a research fellow, after he finished his internship in general surgery at the University of Michigan. Making successive advances in his medical career, he founded the Ben May Institute for Cancer Research at the University Of Chicago.

Contribution

     For his profound work in cancer research, Huggins got the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1966. Huggins’ other accomplishments include recognition of substances that boost bone formation and measurement of enzymes.

Significance of Work

     Hormone therapy by Huggins came as a boon for millions of people who otherwise suffered from unfavorable side effects of radiation treatment and chemotherapy (Charles B. Huggins, MD, 1901-1997).

DAVID HUBEL

Biography

     David Hubel took birth in Windsor, Canada in the year 1926. He graduated in Mathematics and Physics from McGill College in 1947 and went on to enroll himself for a medical degree at McGill. In 1954, he moved to the United States to study neurobiology at the John Hopkins University; and was posted with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Contribution

     He studied the firing of cortical cells in sleeping and waking cats as his major project at Walter Reed. Through his extensive research, Hubel discovered how neurons decode the light rays hitting our retinas that construct the final image that we perceive. Hubel unleashed the visual cortex architecture; a brain element that receives the data collected by the retina of the eyes. Hubel along with his collaborator Wiesel demonstrated that the different retinal images are interpreted by the visual cortex with respect to color, contrast, and contour when the visual messages reach the brain through the eyes.

Significance of Work

     Hubel successfully demonstrated that the visual processing capability starts during the early stages of childhood itself. He also demonstrated that visual cells tend to degenerate if not used. This finding has proved useful in the treatment of various visual impairments in children. For unraveling the mysterious functions of the brain that control sight, Hubel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1981.

HARGOBIND KHORANA

Biography

     Hargobind Khorana took birth in Raipur (Earlier in India and now in Pakistan) in the year 1922. Khorana graduated from Punjab University in Lahore with Chemistry Honors in 1943. He completed his master’s degree in the year 1945 and obtained his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Liverpool, sponsored by the Government of India. He pursued his postdoctoral research on Alkaloids at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. He commenced his research on nucleic acids at Cambridge University under the guidance of Alexander Todd during 1950-1952. He migrated to the University of Wisconsin in the year 1960.

Contribution

     Khorana demonstrated that nucleic acids are the transmitters of the genetic code in combination of three “letters” which accounted for a total of 64 combinations of nucleic acid code molecules. In 1968, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for demonstrating how protein synthesis is governed by the cell’s genetic components.

     Khorana and his colleague Moffat were also successful in the synthesis of acetyl coenzyme A (which was otherwise a costly process when extracted from yeast) in the year 1959. The credit for DNA synthesis through artificial means and synthesis of E.coli for the first time also goes to Khorana.

Significance of Work

     The techniques used by Khorana enabled other scientists to make more specific and small changes in the DNA that could be studied to understand gene mutations and the inheritance of variability. The synthesis of artificial genes equipped the scientists with great opportunities to research in the field of Genetics.

JAMES WATSON

Biography

     James Watson was born in 1928 in Chicago. Watson graduated from the University of Chicago in Zoology in the year 1947. He obtained a Ph.D. in Zoology from Indiana University, Bloomington in 1950.

Contribution

     Watson was working with Crick to study the structure of DNA at Cambridge University in 1951. At the same time, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin were trying to decipher the structure of DNA through X-ray diffraction techniques at King’s College, London. Utilizing the findings of Wilkins’s and Rosalind’s experiment in their research, Watson and Crick came up with the double-helical structure of DNA in 1953. For their distinguished work, Watson shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine with Crick and Wilkins in 1962.

Significance of Work

     The discovery enabled the scientists to study DNA replication and transmission of hereditary information coded on it. The double-helical structure paved the way for the manipulation of several biological processes. The discovery enabled scientists to insert new pieces of DNA in the DNA structure, giving birth to a new era of gene therapy that could be used to counteract diseases in the near future.

ALEC JEFFREY

Biography

     Alec Jeffrey was born in 1950 in Oxford, United Kingdom. He completed his graduation in molecular biology from Melton College, Oxford in 1972. Thereafter, he finished his M.A and D. Phil from Melton in 1975.

Contribution

     He discovered genetic fingerprinting in 1984 while working at the University of Leicester. He found that repetitive sequence of DNA is unique to every individual just like fingerprints which can be used to develop a DNA fingerprint with the help of X-rays. These repetitive patterns appear as banded patterns on an X-ray film. Jeffreys was facilitated with a Davy medal in 1987 from the Royal Society for his outstanding contributions to Forensic sciences. He was also honoured with the Royal Medal in 2004 for his profound impact on genetics through research work.

Significance of Work

     DNA fingerprinting technique revolutionized the methods used in Forensic sciences and is widely used to solve crime cases such as rape and murder. The technique also made it possible to assess the gene mutations in children whose families were exposed to radiation during the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine. The technique also helped the biologists to protect the endangered species around the world.

DENNIS SLAMON

Biography

     Dennis Slamon graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine, the University of Chicago in the year 1975. He obtained his Ph.D. in cell biology the same year from the University of Chicago. In 1979, he became a fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the division of Hematology/Oncology.

Contribution

     The continuous efforts of Slamon and his colleagues for 12 years led to the development of Herceptin, a revolutionary drug effective for breast Cancer. Herceptin targets a specific gene, the Her-2/neu gene found in approximately 25% of breast cancer patients. In 2000, Slamon won the prestigious Bristol-Myers Squibb Oncology Millennium award for his outstanding contribution to breast cancer research. Slamon has won more than two dozen awards for his explicit contribution in the field of scientific research.

Significance of Work

     Slamon’s discovery came as a ray of hope for millions of women suffering from Breast cancer and contributed a great deal to increase the life span of breast cancer patients.



Categories: Biology, Sciences

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