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Nirenberg Timeline

Historical Timeline

1927 Marshall Warren Nirenberg is born April 10, in New York, NY, to Harry Edward and Minerva (nee Bykowsky).

Nirenberg with parents and sister (NLM photo) 1939 The family moves to Orlando, Florida. Here Nirenberg develops an interest in biology.

George Washington bridge (Port Authority photo)

1948 Nirenberg graduates with a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida, where he studied zoology and botany and became a research assistant in the nutrition laboratory.

Nirenberg (NLM photo)

1941 Beadle and Tatum's bread mold experiments lead them to the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis, which states that one gene codes for one enzyme.

George Beadle and Edward Tatum (NLM photos)

1952 Nirenberg earns a master of science in biology from the University of Florida. His thesis dealt with classification and ecology of the caddis fly.
Caddis fly

1952 General Eisenhower and Senator Richard Nixon are elected President and Vice President on the Republican ticket

1953 Watson and Crick elucidate the structure of DNA

James Watson (NLM photo)

1956 The Volkin and Astrachan papers are published.

1957 Nirenberg receives a PhD from the University of Michigan for his work in biochemistry. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the "uptake of hexose--a sugar molecule--by ascites tumor cells." Research was performed in the laboratory of James Hogg. side note

1957 Nirenberg receives a two-year, post-doctoral fellowship from the American Cancer Society, and so begins his career atNational Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Disease (NIAMD), under DeWitt Stetten Jr. (and William Jakoby). side note

NIH (NIH photo)

1958 The PaJaMo experiment is published

1958 Arthur Kornberg discovers DNA polymerase, the enzyme that adds complementary nucleotides to the DNA template, in the replication of DNA.

1958 Paul Zamecnik and Marvin Lamborg work out the bacterial system that Nirenberg and Matthaei will use to crack the genetic code.

1959 Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg share the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the artificial production of nucleic acids with enzymes.

1960 J. Heinrich Matthaei and Nirenberg begin their collaboration. side note

Matthaie and Nirenberg (NLM photo)

1960 Paul Zamecnik develops a cell-free extract from Escherichia coli, a microorganism that acts as an easily studied model for processes highly relevant to human studies.

PAul Zamecnik

1961 On March 22, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications receives a paper written by Marshall Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei. This article demonstrates that messenger RNA (mRNA) is required for protein synthesis and, furthermore, that synthetic mRNA can be used to decipher the genetic code.
side note

1961 Nirenberg delivers a paper on his work at the Fifth International Congress of Biochemistry in Moscow.

1961 Nirenberg marries Perola Zaltzman who is also a biochemist at the National Institutes of Health. side note

Nirenberg and Zaltzman (NLM photo)

1961 Jacques Monod and Francois Jacob publish proof that messenger RNA (mRNA) exists as the unstable information-carrying intermediate between DNA and protein.

1961 Robert Holley produces purified samples of transfer-RNA (tRNA), the molecules that produce proteins from the codes preserved in DNA.

1961 The Berlin Wall is built by Communists in East Germany to divide East and West Berlin.

Berlin Wall ( photo)

1962 War between the US and the Soviet Union is averted by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A year later, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, TX.

1962 Nirenberg is appointed chief of the section of biochemical genetics of the National Heart Institute at NIH. side note

1963 Nirenberg publishes "The Genetic Code: II" in Scientific American.


1964 Nirenberg and Philip Leder announce transfer RNA (tRNA) binding technique for deciphering the genetic code at the Sixth International Congress of Biochemistry in New York. side note

1964 Charles Yanofsky and Sydney Brenner prove that the order of nucleotides in DNA is "precisely collinear with the order of amino acids in proteins, an important step in the elucidation of protein synthesis."

1965 Nirenberg is awarded the National Medal of Science by President Lyndon Johnson. side note

Nirenber and wife with LBJ (NLM photo)

1966 Nirenberg is appointed chief biochemist at the Genetics Laboratory of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of NIH.

1965 Robert Holley works out the complete structure of a molecule of transfer RNA (tRNA), the molecule that builds protein based on instructions from DNA.

tRNA (Katewood group image)

1965 US troops are sent to North Vietnam to fight against the Communist threat

1966 The Cultural Revolution begins in Communist China.

1967 Nirenberg is elected to the National Academy of Sciences

1967 Nirenberg, Richard Marshall, and C. Thomas Caskey show that identical forms of mRNA are used to produce the same amino acids in bacteria, plants, and mammals, suggesting that the genetic code is universal. All life forms use the same 20 amino acids, the same four nucleotides, the same code, and the same protein synthesis. side note

1967 Charles Yanofsky and colleagues prove the assumption that the sequence of codons in agene determines the sequence of amino acids in a protein.

1967 Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick decode another genetic codon on DNA that signals a "stop" message, nearly completing the genetic code.

1967 Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court

Nirenberg with model (NLM photo)

Nirenberg wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Robert Holley and Har Gobind Khorana for their work in deciphering the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. side note

Nobel Laureates (NLM photo)

1968 Nirenberg and Har Gobind Khorana win the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research for their contributions toward deciphering the genetic code. side note

1968 David Zipser discovers the termination codon of UGA.

1968 Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated

Martin Luther King (Seattle Times photo)

1969 President Nixon announces withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.

Nirenberg (NIH photo)

Nirenberg, Perola, others (NLM photo)

1972 Five men are arrested for breaking into the DNC Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC.

1973 Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer show that DNA molecules can be cut with restriction enzymes, joined together with other enzymes and reproduced by inserting them into the bacteria Escherichia coli; this is the beginning of genetic engineering.

1974 Genetic engineering is viewed with alarm by the scientific community. side note

1974 President Nixon resigns and is succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford.

1976 The National Heart and Lung Institute of the NIH is officially named the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

1978 Mideast peace talks are arranged by President Carter between Egypt and Israel.

1992 Nirenberg signs the "Union of Concerned Scientists" warning (World Scientists' Warning to Humanity), as do 1,500 fellow scientists from around the world. side note

1998 Nirenberg signs his name to The American Society for Cell Biology's statement supporting a ban on human cloning.

Philip Leder (Katewood Group photo) 1988 The US Patent and Trade Office issues patent No. 4,736,866 to Harvard Medical School for a mouse developed by Philip Leder and Timothy Stewart by genetic engineering.It is the first US patent issued for a vertebrate.

2000 A letter to President William Jefferson Clinton is signed by 53 Nobel laureates, including Dr. Marshall Nirenberg. The letter is an extraordinarily persuasive request suggesting that the President "not deploy an anti-ballistic missile system," whose long-term effect could be the start of a protracted arms race with China or Russia.

2000 Celera Genome and National Human Genome Research Initiative (NHGRI) announce the preliminary completion of the human genome map, the so-called book of life. This is the first complete mapping of the 3.12 billion base pairs making up the human genetic code.

Photo credits as noted (hover mouse over specific photo) - Harvard: courtesy of Harvard Medical School, LoC: Library of Congress; NLM: Courtesy of National Library of Medicine; NIH: courtesy of the National Institutes of Health and Marshall Nirenberg.