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Marshall Nirenberg

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Nobel Prize winner Marshall Warren Nirenberg is an American biochemist and geneticist best known for deciphering the genetic code. He was born in New York City, moved to Orlando at the age of 14 and is a 1945 graduate of Orlando High.

From a young age, Nirenberg took an interest in biology and benefited greatly from his move to Florida. He enjoyed exploring the state’s ecosystems and sought mentorship and instruction from museum curators and biochemists at nearby World War II training camps.

Nirenberg attended the University of Florida where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology. He earned a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan. After completing a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with the American Cancer Society, he became a research biochemist for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Section of Metabolic Enzymes in 1960. There, he began his work cracking the RNA code, and in 1962 became head of the Section of Biochemical Genetics at NIH.

In the years to follow, Nirenberg and his group of scientists deciphered the entire genetic code by matching amino acids to synthetic triplet nucleotides. In 1968, Nirenberg shared a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Har Gobind Khorana and Robert Holley for their work in cracking the genetic code.

Nirenberg received various other honors and awards throughout his life, including the Molecular Biology Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University and the National Medal of Science. He holds honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale universities and the universities of Michigan, Chicago and Windsor (Ontario). He was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Paul VI.

In 2010, Nirenberg passed away and is survived by his second wife Myrna Weissman, a professor at Columbia University.

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