Alexander Rich

National Medal of Science

Biological Sciences

For his numerous fundamental contributions to our knowledge of the structure and function of DNA and RNA, the central information carriers in living systems.

For his numerous fundamental contributions to our knowledge of the structure and function of DNA and RNA, the central information carriers in living systems.

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Birth
November 15, 1924
Age Awarded
71
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Confirmed Dna'S Double Helix Structure
Awarded by
Bill Clinton
Education
Harvard University
Areas of Impact
Health & Medicine
Affiliations
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Molecular biologist Alexander Rich advanced our knowledge of DNA and RNA molecules, which provide the blueprints for life. His research laid the groundwork for several areas of modern biotechnology.

Rich discovered a DNA structure that spiraled upward to the left, known as z-DNA, opposed to the more common, right-spiraling b-DNA proposed by Watson and Crick. Rich also investigated the properties of RNA, discovering that it had the same double-helix structure as DNA, and demonstrated its many functions: reading the genetic code carried by DNA, transmitting the coded instructions, and then following those instructions to assemble vital proteins.

His work provided insights into how cells manufacture proteins and laid the groundwork for techniques that scientists use to identify and replace pieces of genetic material. Diagnostics for HIV and tests for genes that cause breast cancer were built on Rich’s discoveries. His research continues to have applications in diagnostics, forensics, genealogy and gene sequencing.

By Jen Santisi

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