McCarty, Maclyn 1911-2005

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McCARTY, Maclyn 1911-2005

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born June 9, 1911, in South Bend, IN; died of congestive heart failure January 2, 2005, in New York, NY. Physician, researcher, educator, and author. McCarty was best known as a biochemist and researcher who, along with a team of scientists that includes Oswald Theodore Avery, performed groundbreaking experiments that showed that genetic information was passed down through DNA, not proteins, on the human gene. Earning his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Stanford University in 1933, he completed his M.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1937. He remained at Johns Hopkins to work as a resident until 1940, then worked as a research fellow at New York University for a year. In 1941 he joined the Rockefeller Institute as a fellow in medical sciences at the National Research Council. During World War II he remained based at Rockefeller Institute Hospital while serving as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. McCarty's interest in infectious diseases led him to study pneumococci (pneumonia). In his study, conducted with colleagues, he showed that a non-virulent form of the bacteria could pass on a trait to a virulent form, thus making it more treatable. The trait was passed down through DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), and McCarty helped prove this by using enzymes to break down the DNA. The experiment showed that DNA was the key to how genes passed down traits from generation to generation, a discovery that would later revolutionize medicine and lead to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. McCarty and his fellow researchers published their findings in 1944. Their research did not create much of a stir at the time, a fact some scientists would later attribute to McCarty's team's ineffective promotion of their discovery. Meanwhile, other scientists, such as Francis Crick and James Watson, who revealed the double-helix structure, won Nobel prizes by building on McCarty's work, often without giving their colleagues sufficient credit. This injustice was somewhat rectified in 1994, when McCarty won the Special Achievement in Medical Science award from the Lasker Foundation. Though McCarty would never be given a Nobel prize, he earned the Waterford Biomedical Research Award from the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in 1977. McCarty remained at the Rockefeller Institute until 1981, serving as a full professor from 1957 until 1981, chief of the university hospital from 1961 until 1974, and vice president from 1965 to 1978. His other important research included his discoveries concerning rheumatic fever and the streptococcus bacterium. He was the editor of Streptococcal Infections (1954) and author of The Transforming Principle: Discovering That Genes Are Made of DNA (1985).



Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2005, section 3, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2005, p. B14.

New York Times, January 6, 2005, p. A25.

Times (London, England), January 11, 2005, p. 53.