Oliver Smithies

Oliver Smithies

Smithies at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2010
Born (1925-06-23) June 23, 1925
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
Nationality United Kingdom, United States
Alma mater University of Oxford (BA , PhD)
Thesis Physico-chemical properties of solutions of proteins (1951)
Known for
Notable awards

Oliver Smithies (born June 23, 1925) is a British-born American geneticist and Nobel laureate,[2] credited with the introduction of starch as a medium for gel electrophoresis in 1955,[3] and the simultaneous discovery, with Mario Capecchi and Martin Evans, of the technique of homologous recombination of transgenic DNA with genomic DNA, a much more reliable method of altering animal genomes than previously used, and the technique behind gene targeting and knockout mice.[4][5][6]

Early life and education

Smithies was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. He has said that his love of science comes from an early fascination with radios and telescopes.[7] Smithies graduated First class with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physiology in 1946 and then earned a second bachelor's degree in chemistry.[8] He also received a Master of Arts degree 1951 and a Doctor of Philosophy[9] in Biochemistry in 1951 at Balliol College, Oxford. On scholarship to Oxford, Smithies dropped out of medical school to study chemistry instead.[7]

Career and research

Oliver Smithies second on the left

Because of a visa problem, from 1953 to 1960 Smithies was an associate research faculty member in the Connaught Medical Research Laboratory at the University of Toronto in Canada,[7] before he could return to his originally planned post as Assistant, Associate and Leon J. Cole and Hilldale Professor of Genetics and Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he worked from 1960 to 1988.[7] It was at Toronto's Connaught Laboratory that Smithies developed the technique of gel electrophoresis.

Since 1988, Smithies has been designated an Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States.[10]

Smithies' work has advanced research in cystic fibrosis and could possibly have applications in other human diseases.[11] Along with gel electrophoresis, he developed gene targeting, a method of generating mice with more human-like characteristics for use in research.

He and Mario Capecchi both came to the same discoveries regarding gene targeting independently.[10] Smithies developed the technique while at the University of Wisconsin.

In 2002, Smithies worked along with his wife, Dr. Nobuyo Maeda, studying high blood pressure using genetically altered mice.[10] As of 2008, he still worked in his lab seven days a week.[12]

Awards and honors

On October 8, 2007, Smithies was announced as co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Mario Capecchi of the University of Utah and Martin Evans of Cardiff University "for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells." Smithies is the first full professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to receive a Nobel Prize.[11] Previous awards and honors received by Oliver Smithies include:

Personal life

Smithies is now a naturalized American citizen,[23] and, despite being color-blind, is a licensed private airplane pilot who enjoys gliding.[7][8] His wife, Nobuyo Maeda, is a pathology professor at University of North Carolina.[8] He was previously married to Lois Kitze, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin.[8]


  1. 1 2 "Fellows of the Royal Society". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-03-16.
  2. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  3. Smithies, Oliver (December 1955). "Zone electrophoresis in starch gels: group variations in the serum proteins of normal human adults". The Biochemical Journal. 61 (4): 629–641. ISSN 0264-6021. PMC 1215845Freely accessible. PMID 13276348.
  4. Smithies, Oliver (2001). "Forty years with homologous recombination". Nature Medicine. 7 (10): 1083–1086. doi:10.1038/nm1001-1083. ISSN 1078-8956.
  5. Williams, R. (2011). "Oliver Smithies: Born Inventor". Circulation Research. 108 (6): 650–652. doi:10.1161/RES.0b013e318216f105. ISSN 0009-7330.
  6. Gitschier, Jane (2015). "The Whole of a Scientific Career: An Interview with Oliver Smithies". PLOS Genetics. 11 (5): e1005224. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005224. ISSN 1553-7404. PMC 4447374Freely accessible. PMID 26020970.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Altman, Lawrence K. (October 9, 2007). "3 Win Nobel in Medicine for Gene Technology". New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Kolata, Gina (October 17, 1995). "Scientist at Work: Oliver Smithies; Sprinting Along for Five Decades". New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  9. Smithies, Oliver (1951). Physico-chemical properties of solutions of proteins (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Smithies wins top award from Massry Foundation". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  11. 1 2 "UNC professor wins Nobel Prize". The Daily Tarheel. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  12. "Life at the Bench". Endeavors magazine. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  13. 1 2 3 "Institute of Medicine elects Oliver Smithies". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  14. "Commencements; First Lady Urges Tolerance at Northeastern Graduation". New York Times. June 16, 1991. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  15. North Carolina Award for Science, 1993: NC Awards website. Retrieved on January 23, 2008.
  16. "March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology". March of Dimes. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  17. "Oliver Smithies wins major award from Japanese research foundation". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  18. "2001 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research". Lasker Foundation. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
  19. "March of Dimes Awards $250,000 Prize to Pioneers in Genetic Research". March of Dimes. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  20. "Oliver Smithies receives the Doctor Honoris Causa". University of São Paulo. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  21. "Gold Medal Award Winners:". American Institute of Chemists. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  22. "Honorary degrees awarded at Encaenia". University of Oxford. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  23. "'The y-chromosome is the biggest threat to humanity'". The Local. Retrieved January 23, 2008.
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