Spiegelman, Sol

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SPIEGELMAN, SOL (1914–1983) U.S. research microbiologist. He was born in New York City, where his interest in biology began in childhood. He gained his B.S. in mathematics and physics at the College of the City of New York (1933–39), a course lengthened by switching from biology and a research period at Crown Heights Hospital, Brooklyn (1936–37). He earned his Ph.D. in cellular physiology and mathematics from Washington University, St Louis (1944), after an initial period at Columbia University (1940–42). He worked successively in the bacteriology department of Washington University School of Medicine (1945–48), as a U.S. Public Health Service Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (1948), and at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1948–69), where he became professor of microbiology. He returned to New York (1969) as director of Columbia University's Institute of Cancer Research and professor of human genetics and development in the University's College of Physicians and Surgeons (1975). Spiegelman's research profoundly influenced our understanding of the control of normal cell growth and its disruption in cancer cells. His work has also had important implications for understanding the origins of life in self-replicating nucleic acid sequences. His experiments were based on the novel hypothesis that unregulated activation or deactivation of genes controlling enzyme production is followed by uncontrolled cell growth. Progress in his studies and in molecular biology in general was revolutionized by his technical innovation, rna/dna hybridization, which made it possible to detect and characterize specific rna sequences. Spiegelman and his colleagues first showed that only one strand of dna's double helix transmits the genetic information for protein synthesis. They also identified and purified the first viral nucleic acid polymerase that could detect specific viral rna in the rna of infected cells. In his later work his laboratory concentrated on methods for screening human cancer tissue and the blood of cancer patients for specific viral rna or dna sequences or the rna viral enzyme, "reverse transcriptase," and for antigens found in cancer cells but not normal cells. This, however, has proved to be a difficult and complex field. His many honors include the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (1974) and the Feltrinelli Prize, awarded by the Italian National Academy of Sciences (1981). Spiegelman was also greatly respected for his early recognition of scientists' social responsibilities and for his self-deprecation over the fame brought by scientific discovery.

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]