Meselson, Matthew

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MESELSON, MATTHEW (1930– ), U.S. biologist. Born in Denver, Colorado, he was educated at the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology, where he was research fellow in chemical biology (1957–60). He moved to Harvard University (1960) where he became professor of biology (1964–76) and Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences and Principal Investigator from 1976. He also directed a laboratory program at the Josephine Bay Paul Center in Woods Hole. His research concerned the relationship between dna structure and the control of gene function and replication, the repair of defective dna, and related regulatory mechanisms in molecular genetics. He studied the microscopic animal bdelloid rotifer, with the part objective of elucidating the evolutionary disadvantages of asexual reproduction. His paper with Franklin Stahl (1958) described the first experiments confirming the Watson-Crick model of dna replication and is a classic landmark in the history of molecular biology. Later he collaborated with Sydney Brenner and Francois Jacob (1961) in identifying transfer rna, a crucially important molecule in protein synthesis. His experimental example and teaching skills continue to influence the development of modern biology. From the Vietnam War Meselson worked to prohibit chemical and biological weapons. In 1990 he co-founded with Julian Robinson and directed the Harvard Sussex program based mainly at Harvard University and the University of Sussex dedicated to arms limitation. In 1994 he and his collaborators revealed that the anthrax epidemic in Sverdlovsk in the former U.S.S.R. originated in a military facility. His many honors include membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, foreign membership of the Royal Society of London, the Linus Pauling Prize, the Leo Szilard Award of the American Physical Society, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science (2004). He served on many national and international councils concerned with scientific policy and education.

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]