La Jolla Surfer Among Nobel Science Winners

Kary B. Mullis, an intellectual maverick who surfs La Jolla
beaches at sunrise and skates on Rollerblades every night, was
awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday along with Michael
Smith of Vancouver, Canada, for fundamental breakthroughs in
genetics. The Nobel Prize in physics went to two Princeton
University researchers for their discovery of a pulsar that helped
prove Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Kary B. Mullis and Michael Smith won the 1993 Nobel Prize in
chemistry for breakthroughs in genetics, including Mullis’s recipe
for a genetic chain reaction called PCR which allows scientists to
duplicate and analyze the most minute fragments of DNA.

PHOTO: Surfing to Celebrate: An intellectual maverick who surfs
La Jolla beaches at sunrise and skates on Rollerblades every night
was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Kary B. Mullis shared the
honor with Michael Smith of Vancouver, Canada, for fundamental
breakthroughs in genetics. The Nobel Prize in physics went to two
Princeton University researchers. At right, Mullis arrives home
after spending the morning surfing. / Agence France-Presse; PHOTO:
Kary B. Mullis; PHOTO: Michael Smith; PHOTO: [Joseph H. Taylor
Jr.]; PHOTO: [Russell A. Hulse]

ROBERT LEE HOTZ, TONY PERRY. “La Jolla
Surfer Among Nobel Science Winners :[Home
Edition]. ” Los Angeles Times (pre-1997
Fulltext)
  [Los Angeles, Calif.] 14
Oct. 1993,1. Los Angeles
Times
.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los
Angeles Times 1993all Rights reserved)

Kary B. Mullis, an intellectual maverick who surfs La Jolla
beaches at sunrise and skates on Rollerblades every night, was
awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday along with Michael
Smith of Vancouver, Canada, for fundamental breakthroughs in
genetics. The Nobel Prize in physics went to two Princeton
University researchers for their discovery of a pulsar that helped
prove Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Mullis, 48, an independent biology researcher in La Jolla, was
honored for inventing a fast, accurate way of replicating genetic
material. The technique, called PCR, has allowed scientists to find
genes for major diseases, trace the evolution of humankind, recover
DNA from fossil remains and even free innocent people from
jail.

Mullis, who says he is not “a regular scientist,” once proposed
the sale of celebrity DNA. He said he was elated by the award, but
he saw no reason to vary his morning routine. He grabbed his board
and went surfing.

“I was excited, happy, exhilarated, so I did what I usually do
in the morning,” he said. “I went out on the waves.”

Smith, 61, a director of the Biotechnology Laboratory at the
University of British Columbia in Vancouver, won for his discovery,
conceived during a coffee break, of a way to alter DNA molecules to
learn their functions and then reprogram them to perform
differently.

The technique, called site-directed mutagenesis, allows
scientists to genetically engineer human proteins, with wide
applications in medicine and basic research.

“This should allow us to understand how inherited genetic
diseases work, like cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, or
non-inherited genetic diseases like cancer,” Smith said
Wednesday.

The physics prize was shared by Russell A. Hulse, 42, and Joseph
H. Taylor Jr., 53, for the discovery of a rare pair of very small,
rapidly spinning stars in 1974, which, the Swedish Academy said,
has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation.

The binary pulsar they discovered is a “revolutionary space
laboratory” that can be used to test theories like that proposed by
Albert Einstein.

“So far, Einstein’s theory of gravity has passed the tests with
flying colors,” the academy said in its citation.

Taylor said the 1974 discovery has developed into a project that
is lasting a lifetime. The project “rewards patience,” he said.
“The interesting effects that we are trying to measure accumulate
gradually.”

At the time of the discovery Taylor was a professor at the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hulse was his student.
Hulse received his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology one year after they found the binary
pulsar.

“One follows one’s nose and follows up on interesting leads as
best you can,” Taylor said Wednesday. “This is an illustration of
how remarkable physics and science can be. You go into it to find
out what makes the world work. This is one such discovery when you
get something beautiful and abstract about how it works.”

On Wednesday, Mullis said he figured he would win the Nobel
Prize sooner or later, given the prizes and honors he has already
received.

“It’s something that I half-expected for some time,” he said.
“Now, I’m like, whew, look at that. It’s done. It’s a nice
feeling.”

What many scientists believe is the biggest recent advance in
molecular biology was not made in a laboratory, but while Mullis
was riding his motorcycle a decade ago along California 1 from San
Francisco to Mendocino. The idea simply came to him, he said, and
he pulled over to mull its implications. “I do my best thinking
while driving,” he said.

At that time, Mullis was employed by Cetus Corp., a Northern
California research firm, which later sold the patent for $300
million. PCR has become the foundation of what analysts say is a
$1-billion-a-year industry.

Mullis got a $10,000 bonus for his discovery and moved to San
Diego, where he lives in a small apartment across from Windansea
Beach, a surfing spot made famous by Tom Wolfe’s “The Pump House
Gang.”

Mullis has stubbornly refused to join the high-pressure world of
biotechnology business or academia, preferring instead to do
lecturing and consulting and dabble in fields such as cosmology,
mysticism, mathematics, virology and artificial intelligence.

“I’m not a regular scientist,” he said.

Born in South Carolina, he received a degree in chemistry from
Georgia Tech and a doctorate in biochemistry from UC Berkeley. His
doctoral thesis, “The Cosmological Significance of Time Reversal,”
argued that the universe is a balance between matter that is
shrinking and matter that is expanding. Thrice divorced, he has
three children.

He delights in holding contrarian opinions. He is intrigued by
astrology and sometimes feels he is psychic. “Now and then I can
tell what sign someone is or tell them things about themselves,” he
said.

Mullis said he is writing a book about the two-year court fight
between DuPont Co. and Cetus over rights to his discovery. After
that, he may try science fiction or an autobiography.

Except for making him financially comfortable, Mullis said he
did not think the Nobel Prize would change his life or work.

Last spring he won the $450,000 Japan Prize for his discovery,
and his half of the $825,000 that accompanies the Nobel Prize comes
with no strings and no restrictions.

“It’s your money,” he said. “Candy money. Surfer money. You can
blow the whole thing in Amsterdam on the way home.”

Taylor expressed a different perspective on the Prize. He said
he was aware of the burden the Nobel Prize sometimes imposes on
active scientists, who can find themselves unable to continue
creative research. Either they find themselves overwhelmed by
speaking invitations or simply discover the prize has quenched
their ambition.

“I’m sure it will be a problem and I will work to make sure it
is not an insurmountable problem,” Taylor said.

Hotz reported from Los Angeles and Perry from San Diego.

Chain Reaction

Kary B. Mullis and Michael Smith won the 1993 Nobel Prize in
chemistry for breakthroughs in genetics, including Mullis’s recipe
for a genetic chain reaction called PCR which allows scientists to
duplicate and analyze the most minute fragments of DNA.

The PCR Process

1. The orginal DNA is mixed with a primer-a short strand of
DNA-that tags it, an enzyme (polymerase) which promotes replication
of genes, and nucleotides, which serve as the raw material.

2. The polymerase is heated, triggering the formation of new
strands of DNA in a process that can be repeated over and over
again. Twenty-five cycles yield about a million-fold increase.

Physics Discovery

The work of Joseph H. Taylor, a Princeton University physics
professor, and Russell A. Hulse, a research physicist at the
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, earned them the 1993 Nobel
Prize in physics:

* The discovery: A new type of pulsing star system called a
binary pulsar, in which two dying stars orbit faster and faster
around each other in an increasingly tight orbit.

* When: The binary pulsar was found in 1974 with the 984-foot
radiotelescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

* The importance: The behavior of the paired stars opens a
unique opportunity for the study of gravitation and provides the
most precise test yet of Einstein’s general theory of
relativity.

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