1968 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Deciphering the genetic code

Dr. Nirenberg made the original observation that certain parts of the genetic code—the "alphabet" of reproduction and heredity—are based on nucleic acid messages, the blueprint of life.

His pioneering experiments led him and other scientists to a more extensive examination of the entire genetic code, and to an understanding of the relation between amino acids and nucleotide triplets—compounds which provide information for the life-building process.

Since these amino acids are incorporated into proteins as directed by these messages, Dr. Nirenberg's studies have served as a basis for consideration of the evolutionary life process at the chemical level. They also have given rise to a better understanding of normal and abnormal growth processes, such as occur in cancer, viral infections, and congenital disorders of metabolism.

Dr. Khorana's work is a brilliant exploration of the detailed mechanism of the processes of heredity. His experiments confirmed the original observations of Dr. Nirenberg.

In addition, Dr. Khorana used chemically synthesized DNA molecules to make messenger RNA molecules. Recently, he has embarked on the synthesis of a gene, using chemical and enzymatic methods, and has been moving steadily toward the imposing goal of creating a gene in the laboratory.

Thus, Dr. Marshall Nirenberg and Dr. H. Gobind Khorana, two of the outstanding biochemists of our day, working independently, have made key contributions toward deciphering the genetic code. They have shown how four chemical symbols—the four nucleotide bases of DNA and RNA, taken in groups of three—provide the blueprint for the manufacture of the body proteins, which, in the final analysis, determine the characteristics of living beings and of health or disease.

The 1968 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research is given to Dr. Marshall Nirenberg and to Dr. H. Gobind Khorana for their outstanding achievements in deciphering the genetic code, and thus revealing one of the most fundamental and intriguing secrets of life.