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NIH Symposium to Mark Designation of Genetic Code as National Historic Chemical Landmark

Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg to be Honored

For Immediate Release:
November 10, 2009, 4:45 PM EST

WHAT: A day-long symposium will be held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Thursday, November 12, to mark the American Chemical Society's designation of the deciphering of the genetic code as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The symposium, Genes to Proteins: Decoding Genetic Information, will feature several prominent genomic researchers and will honor Marshall W. Nirenberg, Ph.D., an NIH scientist who shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work on deciphering the genetic code.

WHY: Nirenberg's work on how DNA is translated into proteins was the beginning of research that eventually led to the deciphering of the genomes of humans and now that of many micro-organisms, plants, and animals. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., has described Nirenberg's work "as the foundation upon which all subsequent genetic progress rests."

Nirenberg was the first NIH intramural scientist and the first Federal employee to win a Nobel Prize. He came to the NIH in 1957 as a postdoctoral fellow under DeWitt Stetten, Jr., and became a staff scientist for the NIH in 1960. Since 1962, Nirenberg has led the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics at the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

"It is fair to say that Dr. Nirenberg's discoveries contributed to our completing the human genome, mapping human genetic variation, and studying the correlations between variation and disease," noted Collins, who is also the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and is credited with leading the Human Genome Project, which was completed in April 2003. "One day, when medicine is able to marshal the power of this knowledge to personalize medicine for every individual, the full promise of Nirenberg's work will be realized."

Thursday, November 12, 2009
10:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Masur Auditorium
Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center (Building 10)
NIH Bethesda Campus
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892

WHO: The symposium honors Nirenberg and his colleagues who are credited with deciphering the genetic code. Thomas H. Lane, Ph.D., president of the American Chemical Society, will present a bronze plaque commemorating the historic landmark.

Several prominent researchers, including Nirenberg and Philip A. Leder, M.D., John Emory Andrus Professor of Genetics, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, will discuss the historical work of discovering the "code of life." In addition, J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute and a world-renowned leader in genomic research, will discuss future directions of the field.

Opening remarks will be provided by Alan N. Schechter, M.D., NIH historical consultant and chief of the Molecular Medicine Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK); Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., director, NHLBI; Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director, NIDDK; and Michael M. Gottesman, M.D., NIH deputy director for intramural research.

The NHLBI, the NIDDK, and the NIH Office of Intramural Research are sponsoring the event, which is free and open to the public. For information on visiting NIH, including security procedures, see See for information on viewing the live videocast.

Media representatives who would like more information should contact the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236 or On Wednesday, Nov. 11, please leave a message at (301) 496-5449 or email

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