The genetic code is the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret the 3.3 billion letters of human DNA, the alphabet of life, and the discovery of the code has had an immeasurable impact on science and society. In 1968, Marshall Nirenberg, an unassuming government scientist working at the National Institutes of Health, shared the Nobel Prize for cracking the genetic code. He was the least likely man to make such an earth-shaking discovery, and yet he had gotten there before such members of the scientific elite as James Watson and Francis Crick. How did Nirenberg do it, and why is he so little known? In The Least Likely Man, Franklin Portugal tells the fascinating life story of a famous scientist that most of us have never heard of.
Nirenberg did not have a particularly brilliant undergraduate or graduate career. After being hired as a researcher at the NIH, he quietly explored how cells make proteins. Meanwhile, Watson, Crick, and eighteen other leading scientists had formed the "RNA Tie Club" (named after the distinctive ties they wore, each decorated with one of twenty amino acid designs), intending to claim credit for the discovery of the genetic code before they had even worked out the details. They were surprised, and displeased, when Nirenberg announced his preliminary findings of a genetic code at an international meeting in Moscow in 1961.
Drawing on Nirenberg's "lab diaries," Portugal offers an engaging and accessible account of Nirenberg's experimental approach, describes counterclaims by Crick, Watson, and Sidney Brenner, and traces Nirenberg's later switch to an entirely new, even more challenging field. Having won the Nobel for his work on the genetic code, Nirenberg moved on to the next frontier of biological research: how the brain works.
Franklin H. Portugal
The MIT Press
The MIT Press
The MIT Press
The MIT Press
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As the first biography of Marshall Nirenberg and one written by someone who actually was in the laboratory and understood the science ,this book tells a straight story .of the events leading to the deciphering of the code.. It is a useful and interesting piece of history and is easy to read. It should encourage young people to follow their curiosity and not be dazzled and deterred by famous names and places and clubs. Future biographies will tell the story of Marshall Nirenberg as a profound thinker and as an extraordinary human being.. . .
I was in Marshall Nirenberg’s lab at the time the genetic code was being deciphered and had an opportunity to witness the code being unraveled. With the utmost enthusiasm, I read Franklin Portugal’s book and was not disappointed in the least. Dr. Portugal did an excellent job of capturing the history of deciphering the code, including interviews by others, who also witnessed this historic event. I strongly recommend the book be read by young scientists, who will obtain an inside view of the code being deciphered, as well as the older generation of scientists, who also remember one of the most important scientific events of the 20th Century. I agree with one of the other reviewers that future biographies will present more of Marshall, the man, who had an incredible imagination, which was second to none, was a deep, gifted thinker and a very compassionate human being.
As this book was written by someone who was in the lab at the time of the discovery, the reader gets a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time - the deciphering of the genetic code. I found it to be a quick, yet very informative read, and the scientific concepts easy to grasp. If you are interested in this fascinating period of scientific history, and whether you have or have not heard of Marshall Nirenberg, pick up this book to read and add to your book collection.
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