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Oliver Smithies

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Oliver Smithies

Oliver Smithies
Smithies at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2010
Born (1925-06-23) June 23, 1925
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
Nationality United Kingdom, United States
Fields Biochemistry, genetics
Institutions University of Toronto
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Alma mater Balliol College, University of Oxford
Known for Gel electrophoresis, gene targeting
Notable awards Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2001)
Wolf Prize in Medicine (2002)
Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal (2007)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2007)

Oliver Smithies (born June 23, 1925) is a British-born American geneticist and Nobel laureate,[1] credited with the introduction of starch as a medium for gel electrophoresis in 1955,[2] and the simultaneous discovery, with Mario Capecchi and Martin Evans, of the technique of homologous recombination of transgenic DNA with genomic DNA, a much more reliable method of altering animal genomes than previously used, and the technique behind gene targeting and knockout mice.

Early life

Smithies was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. He has said that his love of science comes from an early fascination with radios and telescopes.[3]

Smithies read Physiology for a BA First class 1946 and then earned a second bachelor's degree in chemistry.[4] He also received a MA 1951 and a DPhil in Biochemistry in 1951 at Balliol College, Oxford. On scholarship to Oxford, Smithies dropped out of medical school to study chemistry instead.[3]

Professional positions and research

Oliver Smithies second on the left

Because of a visa problem, from 1953 to 1960 Smithies was an associate research faculty member in the Connaught Medical Research Laboratory at the University of Toronto in Canada,[3] before he could return to his originally planned post as Assistant, Associate and Leon J. Cole and Hilldale Professor of Genetics and Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he worked from 1960 to 1988.[3] It was at Toronto's Connaught Laboratory that Smithies developed the technique of gel electrophoresis.

Since 1988, Smithies has been designated an Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States.[5]

Smithies' work has advanced research in cystic fibrosis and could possibly have applications in other human diseases.[6] Along with gel electrophoresis, he developed gene targeting, a method of generating mice with more human-like characteristics for use in research.

He and Mario Capecchi both came to the same discoveries regarding gene targeting independently.[5] Smithies developed the technique while at the University of Wisconsin.

In 2002, Smithies worked along with his wife, Dr. Nobuyo Maeda, studying high blood pressure using genetically altered mice.[5] As of 2008, he still worked in his lab seven days a week.[7]

Awards and honors

On October 8, 2007, Smithies was announced as co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Mario Capecchi of the University of Utah and Martin Evans of Cardiff University "for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells." Smithies is the first full professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to receive a Nobel Prize.[6] Previous awards and honors received by Oliver Smithies include:

Personal life

Smithies is now a naturalized American citizen,[17] and, despite being color-blind, is a licensed private airplane pilot who enjoys gliding.[3][4] His wife, Nobuyo Maeda, is a pathology professor at University of North Carolina.[4] He was previously married to Lois Kitze, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin.[4]


  1. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved October 8, 2007. 
  2. ^ Smithies, Oliver (December 1955). "Zone electrophoresis in starch gels: group variations in the serum proteins of normal human adults". The Biochemical Journal 61 (4): 629–641.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Altman, Lawrence K. (October 9, 2007). "3 Win Nobel in Medicine for Gene Technology". New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c d Kolata, Gina (October 17, 1995). "Scientist at Work: Oliver Smithies; Sprinting Along for Five Decades". New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Smithies wins top award from Massry Foundation". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b "UNC professor wins Nobel Prize". The Daily Tarheel. Retrieved October 9, 2007. 
  7. ^ "Life at the Bench". Endeavors magazine. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "Institute of Medicine elects Oliver Smithies". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Commencements; First Lady Urges Tolerance at Northeastern Graduation". New York Times. June 16, 1991. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  10. ^ North Carolina Award for Science, 1993: NC Awards website. Retrieved on January 23, 2008.
  11. ^ "March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology". March of Dimes. Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Oliver Smithies wins major award from Japanese research foundation". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  13. ^ "2001 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research". Lasker Foundation. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007. 
  14. ^ "March of Dimes Awards $250,000 Prize to Pioneers in Genetic Research". March of Dimes. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Doctor Honoris Causa"Oliver Smithies receives the . University of São Paulo. Retrieved September 20, 2008. 
  16. ^ "Honorary degrees awarded at Encaenia". University of Oxford. Retrieved May 16, 2013. 
  17. ^ "'The y-chromosome is the biggest threat to humanity'". The Local. Retrieved January 23, 2008. 

External links

  • Smithies' Lab Page
  • Smithies Nobel Prize lecture
  • Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative
  • Lasker Award details
  • Text of Smithies' Interview about Lasker Award
  • List of prize winners on March of Dimes website
  • UNC Press release of Smithies' election to Institute of Medicine
  • UNC Press release of Smithies' receipt of the O. Max Gardner Award
  • Lecture on the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate's Meeting - "Oliver Smithies (2014) : Where Do Ideas Come From?"
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