- My personal and professional journeys have been far from predictable based on my early childhood. Owing to a range of serendipitous influences, I miraculously transitioned from a rebellious, apathetic teenage street urchin who did poorly in school to a highly motivated, disciplined, and ambitious academic honors student. I was the proverbial “late bloomer.” Ultimately, I earned my PhD in biophysical chemistry at Yale, followed by a postdoc fellowship at Berkeley. These two meccas of thermodynamics, coupled with my deep fascination with biology, instilled in me a passion to pursue an academic career focused on mapping the energy landscapes of biological systems.
- In the 1960s, I developed methods for directly visualizing DNA and DNA-protein complexes using an electron microscope. This made it possible to examine the shape of DNA and to visualize proteins as they fold and loop DNA. Early applications included the first visualization of true nucleosomes and linkers and the demonstration that repeating tracts of adenines can cause a curvature in DNA. The binding of DNA repair proteins, including p53 and BRCA2, has been visualized at three- and four-way junctions in DNA.
- It is a great privilege to contribute to the Reflections essays. In my particular case, this essay has allowed me to weave some of my major scientific contributions into a tapestry held together by what I have learned from three colleagues (Robert Letsinger, Gobind Khorana, and George Rathmann) who molded my career at every important junction. To these individuals, I remain eternally grateful, as they always led by example and showed many of us how to break new ground in both science and biotechnology.
- This article is a survey of my scientific work over 52 years. During my postdoctoral stay in Severo Ochoa's laboratory, I determined the direction of reading of the genetic message, and I discovered two proteins that I showed to be involved in the initiation of protein synthesis. The work I have done in Spain with bacteriophage φ29 for 45 years has been very rewarding. I can say that I was lucky because I did not expect that φ29 would give so many interesting results, but I worked hard, with a lot of dedication and enthusiasm, and I was there when the luck arrived.
- I was born and raised in a small town in southeastern Kansas called Hepler. I attended grammar school and high school in Hepler, and the student body of the high school was approximately 100. The United States entered World War II during my sophomore year, and accelerated programs allowed me to skip my senior year, so I enrolled in college in the summer of 1943. I was 16 years old. I also volunteered for the United States Air Force cadet training program when I was 16. I enrolled in Valparaiso University in Indiana in the fall of 1943; however, my first year at Valpo was not terribly productive.