Brock, Thomas D. (1926- )

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Brock, Thomas D. (1926- )

American bacteriologist

Thomas D. Brock was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and has lived in the midwestern states of the United States all his life. Brock's 1967 summary article in Science, entitled "Life at High Temperatures" generated a great deal of interest, and spawned the branch of microbiology concerned with bacteria that live in extreme environments.

After graduating from high school in Chillicothe, Ohio, Brock enlisted in the Navy. As a veteran, he enrolled at Ohio State University in 1946. He graduated with a degree in botany in 1949, a MS degree and a Ph.D. in 1952. After graduation he joined the antibiotics research department at the Upjohn Company. His relative lack of microbiology training to that point necessitated that he learn on the job. This embracing of new aspects of research continued throughout his microbiology career. Leaving Upjohn after five years, he accepted a position at Western Reserve University (now Case Western University). In 1960 he moved to Indiana University as an Assistant Professor of Bacteriology. He remained there until 1971.

In 1963, Brock had the opportunity to pursue marine microbiology research at the Friday Harbor Laboratories of the University of Washington. There he studied Leucothrix mucor. His diagrams of the twisted configurations called "knots" formed by the growing organisms became a cover story in Science and were featured in the New York Times. This work also stimulated his interest in the microbial ecology of sulfur springs, which led him to conduct research at Yellowstone National Park over the next decade.

Beginning in the mid 1960s, Brock began field research in Yellowstone National Park, Montana. At the time of these studies, bacterial life was not thought to be possible at growth temperatures above about 80° C. Brock found microorganisms that were capable of growth and division at temperatures of nearly 100° C, the temperature at which water boils.

In particular, Brock isolated and named the bacterium Thermus aquaticus. This microbe was the first so-called archaebacteria to be discovered. Archaebacteria are now known to be a very ancient form of life, and may even constitute a separate kingdom of life. The discovery of Thermus aquaticus is thus, one of the fundamental milestones of microbiology.

Brock's discovery has also had a significant impact in the field of biotechnology . The enzymes of the bacterium are designed to work at high temperatures. In particular, a polymerase is the basis of the polymerase chain reaction that is used to artificially amplify the amount of deoxyribonucleic acid . The use of PCR has spawned a multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry.

In 1971, Brock moved to the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently E.B. Fred Professor of Natural Sciences-Emeritus at Wisconsin.

Brock has also been a prolific writer and scientific historian. His numerous books include volumes on the biology of microorganisms, the principles of microbial ecology, the milestones in microbiology, and a profile of Robert Koch . In the 1980s, he formed his own scientific publishing company, which continues to the present day.

For his groundbreaking research and publishing efforts, Brock has received many scientific achievement and education awards in the United States and worldwide.

See also Extremophiles; Tag enzyme

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Brock, Thomas D. (1926- )

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