Temin, Howard Martin

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Temin, Howard Martin

(b. 10 December 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; d. 9 February 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin), virologist and professor of oncology who was a co-winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his research on “the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell.”

Temin was the second of three sons born to Henry Temin, a lawyer, and Annette Lehman Temin. His mother was active in civic affairs, especially those involving education. Temin’s interest in science became evident by the time he was fourteen years old; while a student at Central High School in Philadelphia, he spent summers doing research at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. In 1951 Temin began his college years at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he majored and minored in biology in the honors program. At the age of eighteen he published his first scientific paper. During the summer of 1953 he worked at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. He graduated with a B.S. degree from Swarthmore in 1955.

In 1955, before he attended the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Temin once again spent his summer vacation doing research at the Jackson Laboratory. After a year and a half as an experimental embryology major, he became an animal virology major and worked in the laboratory of Professor Renato Dulbecco, with whom he would later share the 1975 Nobel Prize, along with David Baltimore. Professor Max Delbrück and Doctor Matthew Meselson both served as role models for Temin at Caltech as well. In 1958 Temin and Harry Rubin, a postdoctoral fellow in Dulbecco’s laboratory, developed the first assay in vitro that could be reproduced for the quantitative measuring of viral growth, one that remains in use today for genetic studies of many oncogenic viruses in cell culture. Temin’s doctoral dissertation was on the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV).

After earning his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1959, Temin remained in Dulbecco’s lab for another year as a postdoctoral fellow. In that same year, he conducted the experiments that would lead to the formulation of the provirus hypothesis in 1964 for the Rous sarcoma virus. In 1960 he became an assistant professor at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, where he continued experimenting with the life cycle of RSV in chicken cells in culture. Temin, with genetic and biochemical findings, was able to support his assertion that RSV did indeed synthesize a DNA provirus from its own RNA. His hypothesis was regarded with disdain because at that time biologists were certain that only RNA could be formed from a DNA template; the reverse (DNA formed from RNA) was not thought possible. It was only in 1970, when Temin and Doctor Satoshi Mizutani, as well as Doctor David Baltimore (in separate labs), identified an enzyme, “reverse transcriptase,” that synthesized DNA and used an RNA template, that Temin’s provirus hypothesis was accepted.

While working as an assistant professor he married Rayla Greenberg, a population geneticist from Brooklyn, New York, on 27 May 1962. They had two daughters.

Temin held a number of positions at the McArdle Laboratory until his death in 1994. He was associate professor (1964–1969); professor of oncology (1969–1994); Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Professor of Cancer Research (1971–1994); American Cancer Society Professor of Viral Oncology and Cell Biology (1974–1994); Harold P. Rusch Professor of Cancer Research (1980–1994); and Steenbock Professor of the Biological Sciences (1982–1994). Temin reached the pinnacle of success in 1975, however, when he received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of the reverse transcriptase enzyme, demonstrated by both Temin and Baltimore to be capable of making a DNA copy from an RNA template. Much of the work that Temin conducted on retroviruses became the germ of later research in developing vaccines and other preventive measures against both cancer and AIDS.

In addition Temin served on the editorial boards of several journals and earned many accolades, including: a Research Career Development Award from the National Cancer Institute (1964–1974); the U.S. Steel Award given by the National Academy of Sciences (1972); and the Enzyme Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society (1973). In 1974 Temin received the Dyer Award from the National Institutes of Health, the G.H.A. Clowes Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. The Lila Gruber Award from the American Academy of Dermatologists was presented to Temin in 1981. Other awards and honorary degrees include the Bitterman Memorial Award by the University of California at Berkeley (1984), the first Hilldale Award in the Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1986), and the National Medal of Science (1992).

Temin became a staunch supporter of nonsmokers, speaking extensively about the unhealthy effects of smoking on the body. A rare form of cancer called adenocarcinoma of the lung caused Temin’s death at the age of fifty-nine. He is buried at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison.

Temin will be remembered not only for his groundbreaking work in the battle against cancer and AIDS through his research with retroviruses, but also as a reserved, family-oriented man. He always spoke out for what he believed to be right in an unassuming yet determined way. It is this selfless concern for human life, coupled with his extraordinary research talents, that earns him a place in history. The lakeshore bike-pedestrian path that Temin had been known to traverse each morning on his way to work has since been named after him.

The Kremers Reference Files, University Archives, University of Wisconsin at Madison, contains a folder with biographical material on Temin. The foreword to Geoffrey M. Cooper, Rayla Greenberg Temin, and Bill Sugden, eds., The DNA Provirus: Howard Temin’s Scientific Legacy (1995) also provides information about Temin’s life. He himself wrote a short autobiographical sketch for the Nobel Foundation after he won the Nobel Prize in 1975. An obituary is in the Boston Globe (11 Feb. 1994).

Adriana C. tomasino