|Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg performing an experiment likely related to protein synthesis and genetic code translation, ca. 1962. Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.|
Dear NHLBI Colleagues,
Our longtime colleague, Dr. Marshall Nirenberg, passed away this afternoon after a long battle with cancer. We are all saddened by the news, and our deepest sympathies are with his wife and family.
Marshall was an integral part of the NHLBI intramural program for 47 years. He was perhaps best known for deciphering the genetic code in his first years here, having designed an ingenious experiment and then painstakingly uncovered the RNA sequences that encode all 20 amino acids. The work earned him a Nobel Prize in 1968, making him the first NIH intramural researcher and federal employee to receive the honor, and helped set the stage for the genomic era we are living in today. Most recently, we celebrated with Marshall the American Chemical Society’s recognition of his research with the designation of a National Historical Chemical Landmark.
Marshall's career at the NHLBI was not limited to this initial breakthrough. Over the next decades, he continued to conduct pioneering research in areas as diverse as neuroblastoma, gene expression, stem cell differentiation, nervous system development and small-molecule screening. His work, and the work of those who have followed in his footsteps, has deepened our knowledge in both the laboratory and the clinic about congenital heart disease, blood disorders, memory and addiction. Along the way, he earned quite a collection of honorary degrees and awards, including the Lasker Award and the National Medal of Science.
The numerous researchers Marshall trained have become scientific leaders around the country, two of whom earned Nobels themselves. He was one of the first to foresee the possibility of genetic manipulation and cloning and helped lead a movement beginning in the 1960s to establish ethical guidelines. His legacy of rigorous research, intellectual curiosity, and endless enthusiasm has already taken root among his colleagues at the NIH and beyond. It was a pleasure and an honor to have him at the NHLBI over the past decades. He will be missed.
I know that some of you will want to pay your respects in the coming days. There will be a memorial service in New York City on Tuesday, January 19, 2010. We will share any details as we learn more. His family has requested that memorial donations be directed to FAES.
With best regards,
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|Dr. Michael M. Gottesman, NIH Deputy Director for Intramural Research (left), and Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg (right) celebrate the designation of a National Historic Chemical Landmark on Nov. 12, 2009. Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.|