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The Scientist Who Keeps Missing the Nobel Prize - Oswald Avery

Daniel Zhou

Oswald Theodore Avery Jr. was a biology researcher and Canadian-American physician. Avery worked in the Rockefeller Hospital in New York City. He was one of the first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry, but he is best known for the experiment which was published in 1944 with his coworkers Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty that isolated DNA as the material of which genes and chromosomes are made.

But unfortunately, although Avery was nominated for the award throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, he didn’t receive the Nobel Prize. Arne Tiselius – the Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry – said that Avery was the most deserving scientist to receive the Nobel Prize for his work. To memorize him, the lunar crater Avery was named by his name.

Avery grew up in a wooden row house in the north end of Halifax in 1887. When Avery was 10, his family moved to the Lower East Side of New York City. Avery earned his undergraduate degree at Colgate University. In 1913, Rufus Cole, a person who had noticed some of Avery's publications offered a position at Rockefeller Hospital. At the institute, Cole, Avery, and Dochez developed the first effective immune serum against a strain of pneumococcus. The serum was produced from the blood of infected horses. During the time before 1952, he kept researching and working in the hospital and getting plenty of achievements.

The greatest academic accomplishment of Avery is Avery's conclusion, that "The evidence presented supports the belief that a nucleic acid of the deoxyribose type is the fundamental unit of the transforming principle of Pneumococcus Type II." This conclusion greatly influenced Erwin Chargaff who upon reading those words dedicated his work to identifying a "chemistry of heredity" which he later elucidated in Chargaff’s rules. Hershey and Chase furthered Avery's research in 1952 with the Hershey-Chase experiment. These experiments paved the way for Watson and Crick’s discovery of the helical structure of DNA, and thus the birth of modern genetic and molecular biology.

Avery passed away in 1955, and his papers are stored at the Tennessee State Library and the Rockefeller Archive. Many of his papers, poems, and handwritten lab notes are available at the National Library of Medicine in the Oswald T. Avery Collection, the first of their Profiles in Science series.



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