Nirenberg, Marshall Warren

Nirenberg, Marshall Warren,

1927–2010, American biochemist, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., Ph.D., Univ. of Michigan, 1947. He spent his entire career as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. Nirenberg was a co-recipient of the 1968 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Har Gobind KhoranaKhorana, Har Gobind,
1922–2011, American biochemist, b. Raipur (now in Pakistan), Ph.D. Univ. of Liverpool, 1948. He became a U.S. citizen in 1966, and was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1970 to 2007. Khorana, Marshall W.
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 and Robert W. HolleyHolley, Robert William,
1922–93, American biochemist, b. Urbana, Ill., Ph.D. Cornell, 1947. He was a professor at Cornell (1948–68) before he joined (1968) the Salk Institute, and he continued an association with Cornell after 1968.
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 for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. Nirenberg, working with German biochemist Johann Heinrich Matthaei and later American geneticist Philip Leder (postdoctoral researchers in his lab), found that the arrangement of the four types of nucleotidesnucleotide
, organic substance that serves as a monomer in forming nucleic acids. Nucleotides consist of either a purine or a pyrimidine base, a ribose or deoxyribose, and a phosphate group. Adenosine triphosphate serves as the principle energy carrier for the cell's reactions.
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 on the DNA molecule (see nucleic acidnucleic acid,
any of a group of organic substances found in the chromosomes of living cells and viruses that play a central role in the storage and replication of hereditary information and in the expression of this information through protein synthesis.
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) determines both the chemical composition and the function of new cells, and identified the sequences of nucleotides, or codons, that specify the 20 amino acidsamino acid
, any one of a class of simple organic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and in certain cases sulfur. These compounds are the building blocks of proteins.
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Nirenberg, Marshall Warren


Born Apr. 10, 1927, in New York City. American biochemist. Member of the US National Academy of Sciences (1967) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1966).

Nirenberg received the M.S. degree from Florida State University in 1952, and then worked at the University of Michigan from 1952 to 1957. In 1957 he began working at the Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Diseases. Since 1962 he has headed the biochemical genetics laboratory at the National Heart and Lung Institute.

Nirenberg’s main works are concerned with the interpretation of the genetic code. He demonstrated that polyuridylic acid serves as the matrix for polyphenylalanine synthesis and that the UUU (uracil-uracil-uracil) codon determines the inclusion of phenylalanine in the polypeptide chain during protein synthesis. Nirenberg, together with R. Holley and H. G. Khorana, was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1968.


In Russian translation:
“Geneticheskii kod (II).” In the collection Struktura i funktsiia kletki. Moscow, 1964.