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Berg, Paul

rna amino adaptor recombinant

(1926– ) US molecular biologist: discovered first transfer RNA and pioneered recombinant DNA techniques.

Educated in the USA, Berg held chairs from 1970 at both Washington University (St Louis) and Stanford. In 1955 had suggested that the biosynthesis of proteins from amino acids, under the control of an RNA template, involved an intermediate ‘adaptor’ molecule. He thought it possible that a specific adaptor existed for each of the 20 amino acids. The next year Berg identified the first adaptor, now called a transfer RNA; it is a small RNA molecule which transfers a specific amino acid, methionine.

Later, Berg developed a method for introducing selected genes into ‘foreign’ bacteria, thereby causing the bacteria to produce the protein characteristic of the cells from which the genes had been taken. This technique of recombinant DNA technology (‘genetic engineering’) is of value because it can give a convenient bacterial synthesis of a desired protein such as insulin or interferon. However, it offers the potential danger that novel pathogens might be created, by accident or otherwise, and Berg was influential in warning of this problem. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1980.

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