Marshall Nirenburg received a Nobel Prize in recognition of his work with the genetic code. Through his work, he was able to postulate the patterns through which DNA forms the proteins that provide the basis for all living cells. He also revealed the specific components of each of the 20 amino acids from which proteins are constructed. Furthermore, alongside his colleague Johann Heinrich Matthaei, he identified the first of 64 codons. Following this identification, Nirenburg and Matthaei proceeded to identify the remaining codons before any other scientists. Since he was one of the youngest biologists at the age of 34 years, and relatively unknown prior to his incredible discoveries relating to DNA, the biology research community of the time was shocked to hear of his discoveries.
Francis Collins is currently the United States’ Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and from 1993-2008, he was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH. A physician-geneticist, Collins has received many awards recognizing his achievements in discovering disease genes, including those isolated genes connected to: cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, and many others. Perhaps his most noteworthy accolade might be his overall involvement with the Human Genome Project. This Project undertook the monumental task of drafting the entire human genome.
Both Marshall Nirenburg and Francis Collins have accomplished extraordinary feats. Their contributions to the fields of molecular biology and genetics alone have immensely advanced prior knowledge. Due to their individual lives’ timelines, they scarcely would have been conceivable colleagues. Collins’ work built off of Nirenburg’s discoveries—one could hardly imagine what they may have accomplished together, had they been contemporaries. Their combined research discoveries and identifications are credited with the advancement of both biological and medical knowledge; these developments have impacted medical practices, particularly regarding genetic disease, as well.