Paul Berg, born in Brooklyn, New York, USA, is
an American biochemist and professor emeritus at Stanford University.
He received his B.S. in biochemistry from Penn State University in 1948
and Ph.D. in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University in 1952.
In 1980, he shared half of the Nobel
Prize for Chemistry with the team of Walter Gilbert and Frederick
Sanger. All three were recognized for their important contributions
to basic research in nucleic acids.
The following press release from the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences describes Berg's work:
The attributes of life and living organisms, such
as reproductive ability, growth, motility and response to external
stimuli, are outward manifestations of a very complicated network
of coupled chemical reactions. The chemical machinery of a living
cell is governed by DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in its chromosomes.
DNA carries out its task by determining which enzymes a cell shall
manufacture. The enzymes impart to the cell its characteristic chemical
pattern by their ability to speed up (catalyze) given chemical reactions
in a specific manner. The scientists who have been awarded this year's
Nobel Prize in Chemistry have developed methods making it possible
to map in considerable detail the structure and function of DNA.
Nucleic acids (e.g. DNA) and proteins (e.g. enzymes)
consist of giant molecules (macromolecules), which are built up by
smaller molecules, functioning as building blocks, linked together
into long chains. The building blocks of DNA are called nucleotides,
and in enzymes they are named amino acids. We know through investigations
which have led to earlier Nobel Prize Awards, that DNA expresses its
genetic message by the sequence of its building blocks determining
the sequence of amino acids in an enzyme. But different cells differ
in their chemical machinery, and there are consequently parts of the
DNA molecule which control how much of its message which shall be
copied. In higher organisms the chromosomes have in addition DNA with
an hitherto unknown function.
The scientific contributions which are now awarded
with Nobel Prizes have to a considerable degree increased our knowledge
of the way in which DNA as carrier of the genetic traits govern the
chemical machinery of the cell. Berg was the first investigator to
construct a recombinant-DNA molecule, i.e. a molecule containing parts
of DNA from different species, e.g. a chromosome from a virus combined
which genes from a bacterial chromosome. His pioneering experiment
has resulted in the development of a new technology, often called
genetic engineering or gene manipulation, which has already had important
practical applications, e.g. the manufacture of human hormone with
the aid of bacteria. Berg performed his experiment, however, as part
of an incisive analysis of the chromosome of an ape virus (called
SV 40) Viruses contain DNA (or sometimes RNA, another nucleic acid).
They cause disease by introducing foreign genetic information in a
cell and in this way disturbing its chemical machinery. As DNA molecules
from viruses are relatively small, they are excellent objects of investigation
for the study of the relationship between the chemical structure and
biological function of DNA.
The investigations of Berg, Gilbert and Sanger have
given us a detailed insight into the chemical basis of the genetic
machinery in living organisms. They have already formed the foundation
for important technical applications. In an extended perspective they
will certainly play a decisive role in our efforts to understand the
nature of cancer, as in this disease there is a malfunction in the
control, by the genetic material, of the growth and division of cells.