The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1980
Born: 30 June 1926, New York, NY, USA
Died: 15 February 2023, Stanford, CA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant-DNA”
Prize share: 1/2
Paul Berg grew up in Brooklyn. A teacher awakened his scientific bent when she encouraged students to conduct their own research projects. Berg was studying biochemistry at Pennsylvania State University when World War II broke out. He served on a submarine before obtaining his degree in 1948. He received his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University, and after a period in Copenhagen, he worked with Arthur Kornberg in St. Louis, Missouri. Berg made his Nobel Prize-awarded discovery at Stanford University. In 1947 he married Mildred Levy, and the couple had a son, John.
DNA carries organisms' genomes and also determines their vital processes. The ability to artificially manipulate DNA opens the way to creating organisms with new characteristics. In conjunction with his studies of the tumor virus SV40, in 1972, Paul Berg succeeded in inserting DNA from a bacterium into the virus' DNA. Berg thereby created the first DNA molecule made of parts from different organisms. This type of molecule became known as hybrid DNA or recombinant DNA. Among other things, Berg's method opened the way to creating bacteria that produce substances used in medicines.