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Nirenberg, Marshall Warren

NIRENBERG, MARSHALL WARREN (1927– ), U.S. biochemist and Nobel Prize winner. Nirenberg was born in New York City and educated in Orlando, Florida. He received his B.Sc. (1948) and M.Sc. (1952) in zoology from the University of Florida at Gainesville and earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, guided by Dr. James Hogg. He joined the staff of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, in 1957 where he was appointed chief of biochemical genetics at the National Heart Institute and where he has remained for the rest of his career. Nirenberg and his co-workers showed that genes control protein synthesis through DNA sequences transmitted by RNA. They elucidated the "language" dictating the synthesis of a single amino acid as the first step in understanding what is now termed the "genetic code." He was awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine jointly with Robert Holley and Har Gobind Khorana. Subsequently Nirenberg and his colleagues completed the task of unraveling the full code. He remained an active research worker investigating the conserved genes that control development called "homeoboxes" and the genes and factors that regulate the growth of cell lines derived from the nerve cell tumor, neuroblastoma. His many honors include election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1967), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society (2001). His awards include the U.S. National Medal of Science (1966), the Gairdner Award (1967), the Lasker Award in Basic Medical Science (1968), the U.S. National Medal of Honor (1968), and the Joseph Priestley Award (1968). Nirenberg showed great and often controversial interest in the social responsibilities of geneticists and was actively involved in action against world poverty and nuclear proliferation. He often protested against the political repression of fellow scientists including the Soviet refusal to allow Mikhail Stern to immigrate to Israel. He married the biochemist Perola Zaltzman in 1968.