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Stanley Cohen, one of the founders of modern-day biotechnology. A ccording to one account, biotechnology was born during a meeting at a Hawaiian delicatessen in 1972. The shop has long since been torn down, and there is no plaque to mark biotech’s inception — but its legacy lives on. And the two pioneers who met there blazed distinct career paths that have become well trodden. Stanford medical professor Stanley Cohen and biochemist Herbert Boyer from the University of California, San Francisco, were in Honolulu to attend a meeting on plasmids, the ringlets of DNA contained in bacteria. Cohen reported on the ability to introduce plasmid DNA into Escherichia coli , which allowed researchers to propagate and clone the plasmids in the bacteria. Boyer told the meeting about his work with a revolutionary enzyme called Eco RI that could cleave the double-stranded DNA molecule to produce single- stranded ends with identical termini. Both saw the potential for combining the two discoveries into what would become genetic engineering. First, use Eco RI to slice both plasmid DNA and the DNA of choice. Then, with the identical DNA termini exposed, attach the DNA fragment to the plasmid DNA, and clone the whole in E. coli . The two men first discussed collaboration at a deli near Waikiki Beach. Their chat over a late-night snack led to a scientific achievement that later rocked the world of science. Within a year, they had cloned DNA molecules made by splicing together DNA fragments of two different plasmids, thus creating recombinant DNA. The foundations for biotechnology were established. Boyer and Cohen chose different paths, both affected by concerns about the safety of recombinant DNA technology (which would lead in 1975 to the Asilomar conference, where scientists, ethicists and journalists pondered the implications of genetic engineering). While Cohen stayed in academia and defended recombinant DNA technology in US congressional hearings, Boyer saw the potential for profit. In South San Francisco in 1976, Boyer and venture- capitalist Robert Swanson set up Genentech, the world’s first biotechnology company. Pioneers at Genentech and their collaborators at the California Institute of Technology were the first to synthesize DNA in the lab. But they wanted to use E. coli as a factory to synthesize mammalian proteins. Proof of principle had been demonstrated earlier by Cohen and his colleagues at Stanford, when they used the bacteria to produce a functioning mouse-cell protein. The Genentech scientists eventually succeeded, producing a human hormone called somatostatin in the bacteria — and so heralded the era of commercial biotechnology. The production of
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This note was uploaded on 05/26/2008 for the course MCDB 120 taught by Professor Johncarlsoncarolbascom-slackfrankslack during the Fall '07 term at Yale.

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