Kary Mullis grew up throwing frogs to the sky With homemade rockets, he studied chemistry, left science for a couple of years to work in a bakery, earned a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in the heat of psychedelic drug fever and eventually invented, while driving his car, a technique that It marked a before and after in biology: the polymerase chain reaction, a kind of molecular photocopying that allows you to copy a small segment of DNA millions of times. Its revolutionary discovery allowed us to read the human genome, diagnose genetic disorders, identify corpses and hunt serial killers for their DNA. Mullis, born in 1944 in Lenoir (USA), eventually won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. He died on August 7 from pneumonia in the Californian city of Newport Beach, according to has explained his widowNancy Cosgrove, to the newspaper The Washington Post.
The same American newspaper said in 1998 that Mullis was "possibly the strangest person who has never won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry ”. In 1994, just one year after winning the prize, the researcher visited Spain to give the closing talk of the congress of the European Society for Clinical Research, in Toledo, but refused to talk about his great discovery. Instead, he decided to disseminate his theory that AIDS is not caused by a virus, but arises from exposure to many other pathogens.
Mullis told in his autobiography that one night he spoke in a forest with "a bright raccoon", perhaps "extraterrestrial"
"Mullis started laughing at his audience by commenting that he was going to Seville" where there is some kind of festival in which one gets drunk all night. " He illustrated the principle of his intervention, cumbersome and confusing, with photographs taken by him of geometric images projected on naked women ”, The country then recounted. Mullis, a genius in his field, showed that a nobel It can be a real songwriter outside your discipline.
The French virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who discovered HIV in 1983, talked about Mullis in an interview with this newspaper Two years ago. "I have never talked with him. I refuse to talk to people who say idiocy, ”said the researcher. “Scientific data has clearly demonstrated the link between the virus and the disease. These types of statements are dangerous. There are patients who have stopped treatment because of these observations and have fallen ill. You have to stop them, because they are dangerous, ”he added.
Mullis published his autobiography, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field ("Dancing naked in the field of mind"), in 1998. In the book, the chemist tells us that one night in 1985 he met "a bright raccoon" in a forest he owned in Mendocino County, California . "Good afternoon, doctor," the raccoon greeted him, according to Mullis's delirious story. “To say they were aliens is a lot to say. But to qualify him as a stranger would be to underestimate him, ”reflected the Nobel winner.
The discoverer of HIV, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, described Mullis' denial speech as "dangerous"
The polymerase chain reaction, known as PCR, changed science forever. Each cell keeps in its tiny nucleus two meters of DNA folded in an inconceivable way. There is written the operating manual of life. Until 1985, scientists needed huge amounts of DNA to be able to analyze genetic information. But, that year, Mullis conceived a new strategy. When the DNA molecule was heated, its two complementary chains - which are usually curled up like a spiral staircase - were separated. By adding the fundamental bricks of DNA, and with the help of an enzyme, each independent chain served as a template to generate the complement and give rise to a perfect photocopy of the original molecule. That way I could have millions of copies in no time. According to Mullis, he had his eureka moment while driving his car from Emeryville, where he worked at the Cetus company, to his farm in Mendocino, which he thought he saw a luminous raccoon and talkative raccoon, perhaps extraterrestrial.
The American chemist, who dedicated himself to surfing after winning the Nobel Prize, always boasted of swimming against the current. In a TED talk in 2002Mullis recalled that the idea of PCR came to him in 20 minutes and that if he had listened to his molecular biologist friends he would have abandoned it as impossible. "If I had to seek an authority in the matter to ask if the idea would work, I would have said no," said the chemist. That same attitude towards the scientific consensus led him to deny the existence of the AIDS virus and also that of global warming, an invention of "parasites with degrees in economics or sociology."
Mullis always knew that he would win the Nobel. In his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, the chemist says that his mentor in Berkeley, Joe Neilands, warned him in 1993 that he could take the prize that same year. The old biochemist, 23 years older than Mullis, recommended that he not talk so much with the press to avoid ruining his candidacy. “Neilands told me that probably nothing was wrong because he admitted that I love surfing and women, but he thought that the (Nobel) committee could frown at the fact that I admitted to having taken LSD. Surfing, women and LSD could be too much, ”Mullis recalled in his autobiography. "We both knew I wouldn't shut up."
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