Published On: Thu, Mar 20th, 2014

Dr. Julius Marmur: His DNA research and how it impacts the world

I, and hopefully others out there, am guilty of “Googling” everything.  During one of these involuntary acts, I came upon a website that listed historic March Birthdays.  Worth mentioning were renowned inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the first telephone, as well as Albert Einstein, whom among other things developed the theory of relativity.  As I scanned the website, one inventor caught my eye as his contributions were in the field of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) – a scientist named Julius Marmur.  Upon reading the word DNA, most readers will “ex” out of this article, but in case you haven’t let me briefly inform of who this man is and why everyone should care.

DNA photo Square87 via wikimedia commons

DNA photo Square87 via wikimedia commons

Julius Marmur, born on March 22, 1926, received his M.S. from McGill University in Canada followed by his Ph.D. from Iowa State University.  During the 1950s he was part of a laboratory at Harvard whom, along with Dr. Paul Doty and Dr. Carl L. Schildkraut, made unprecedented discoveries in the field of recombinant DNA. One of these contributions was the discovery that DNA could be pulled apart, and because the two DNA strands were complementary to each other, they could be put back together again; a term called hybridization.  So how does the world benefit from these studies?

The concept of hybridization has been exploited in not only scientific research, but in diagnostics and disease prevention.  Many individuals are aware that HIV testing is available; however, many individuals are not aware of HOW HIV is detected. In short, because the genome of this retro virus has been sequenced, there are diagnostic screens that contain fragments of HIV sequences on chips. If HIV is present in a patient sample, it will bind, or hybridize, to the chips.  A second example where the principle of hybridization is employed is prenatal genetic testing. One specific prenatal screen is a test called chorionic villus sampling (CVS). Mechanistically, CVS utilizes the binding of synthetic fluorescently labeled sequences to the DNA within fetal chromosomes, a technique known as fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH). These results can identify chromosomal anomalies and genetic disorders present in the fetus which provide insight towards the future health of an unborn child. These are just two of many screens that are commonly used by people all over the world; other tests include the detection of mutations in cancer related genes, HPV screens, and forensic DNA analysis. Undoubtedly, these amenities yield unmeasurable benefits toward diagnostics and disease prevention.

In addition to his research at Harvard, Dr. Marmur went on to teach at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) at Yeshiva University for over 30 years. As a result of his dedication towards science and education, he is since recognized at the Julius Marmur Symposium that takes place annually at AECOM.

In honor of Dr. Julius Marmur’s birthday this month, I felt obliged to publically pay my respects to him and spread awareness regarding his contributions to science.  As scientists, we would all like to think our contributions will impact the scientific community to some degree, but Dr. Marmur did more than that. His discoveries, like other scientists unbeknownst to the general population, impacted more than the scientific community; they impacted the world.

Amanda Fisher is currently finishing up her M.S. in Biology at the University of Delaware where she studies pancreatic cancer under Dr. Huey-Jen Lee Lin. Her research interests range from cancer to rare genetic diseases and her future goals involve seeking treatment for these disorders via medical education and science communication efforts.

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