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Baltimore, David

enzyme rna research university

(1938– ) US molecular biologist: discovered reverse transcriptase enzyme.

Baltimore’s interest in physiology was initiated by his mother (a psychologist) when he was a schoolboy. However, he studied chemistry at Swarthmore and later at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rockefeller University; afterwards he moved into virology, and in 1972 he became professor of biology at MIT and later director of the Whitehead Institute at Cambridge, MA. In 1968 Baltimore showed how the polio virus replicates, with some detail on how its RNA core and protein coat are formed. In 1970 he announced his discovery of the enzyme ‘reverse transcriptase’, which can transcribe RNA into DNA and does so in some tumour viruses. This was a novel finding; the ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology, due to , is the scheme: DNA?RNA?protein, in which the first arrow is designated transcription, and the second translation. Before Baltimore’s work it had been assumed that the converse of transcription did not occur. Baltimore shared a Nobel Prize in 1975 with H M Temin (1934–94) and R. Dulbecco (1914– ) who had independently discovered the enzyme.

Baltimore became president of Rockefeller University in 1990 and combined administration with fundraising and research. Then a report from the National Institutes of Health alleged that one of his co-authors in a paper published in Cell in 1986 had used falsified data. Baltimore first defended his colleague, but later changed his position on this and apologized to the ‘whistle blower’ who had first raised the question of research ethics in this matter and who had faced antagonism as a result.

Baltimore’s position as president became difficult and he resigned in late 1991, continuing in full-time research in Rockefeller University. The US Secret Service carried out forensic work on the papers held to contain false data, but failed to convince all parties that fraud was proved, in face of the difficulties involved in a very complex case.

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