Hamilton O. Smith Biography

(American Microbiologist Who Discovered Type II Restriction Endonuclease)

Birthday: August 23, 1931 (Virgo)

Born In: New York City, New York

Hamilton Othanel Smith is a microbiologist from America who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1978. He shared the prize with two other microbiologists for the discovery of ‘restriction enzymes’ that could divide the DNA in a cell into smaller pieces so that its construction could be studied more easily. The other two microbiologists who shared the prize with him were Werner Arber from Switzerland and Daniel Nathans from America. The ‘restriction enzymes’ discovered by Smith was a new type of enzyme that could recognize a certain sequence of nucleotides in a DNA or ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ molecule and could cut the molecule at that very point. This discovery laid the foundation for using ‘restriction enzymes’ as a tool in genetics and microbiology for studying the DNA of different kinds of biological systems in later experiments. Arber and other microbiologists had already found that one type of ‘restriction enzymes’ recognizes DNA sequences and cuts them up at random points but not at the point of recognition. Smith and his colleagues discovered the second type of ‘restriction enzymes’ while studying the ‘Haemophilus influenzae’ bacteria that not only recognizes a specific point of the DNA molecule but also cuts it exactly at the same point.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Hamilton Othanel Smith

Age: 92 Years, 92 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Anne Bolton

father: Bunnie Othanel Smith

mother: Tommie Naomi Harkey

Biologists Microbiologists

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: University of California, Berkeley, (BA), Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, (MD)

awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978

Childhood & Early Life
Daniel O. Smith was born on August 23, 1931 in New York, USA. His father, Bunnie Othanel Smith was an Assistant Professor of Education at the ‘University of Florida’ at Gainesville, and his mother, Tommie Naomi Harkey was a school teacher.
He has an elder brother named Norman.
Both his parents were from simple background. His father had taken leave from the university and had joined ‘Columbia University’ in New York City to pursue his doctoral studies when Hamilton was born.
His family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois when his father joined the ‘Department of Education’ at the ‘University of Illinois’.
Smith spent his entire boyhood at Champagne-Urbana which was relatively detached from general affairs like the Great Depression and the World War II.
He attended the ‘University Laboratory High School’ of Urbana, Illinois where most of the students were very talented and drawn from the families belonging to the university faculty.
He completed high school in three years with help from his chemistry and physics teacher Wilbur E. Hamish, Vynce Hines who taught him plane geometry and Miles C. Hartley who taught him algebra.
After high school he matriculated with mathematics as a major subject from the ‘University of Illinois’ but was undecided about his further studies. He started studying the central nervous system when his brother introduced him to a book written by a biophysicist, Rashevsky related to its mathematical modeling.
He joined the ‘University of California’ at Berkeley in 1950 where he interest in biochemistry, biology and cell physiology.
Smith did his graduation from the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from there.
After deciding on a medical career, Smith applied to the ‘John Hopkins University Medical School’ in Baltimore, Maryland and joined the institute in 1952.
In 1956 he earned his M.D. from the ‘John Hopkins University’ and proceeded to the ‘Barnes Hospital’ in St. Louis for his medical internship.
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Hamilton O. Smith joined the Navy when he was drafted into the Armed Forces in July 1957 and completed a two year stint in San Diego, California. He developed interest for genetics during this time.
In 1959 he moved to Detroit, Michigan with his wife and one-year old son and joined the ‘Henry Ford Hospital’ to complete his medical residency training. Here he found his calling when he came across books on ‘bacteriophage’ and molecular biology written by Mark Adams and others.
After getting a N.I.H. postdoctoral fellowship, he joined the ‘Department of Human Genetics’ at the ‘University of Michigan’ at Ann Arbor in 1962 after his residency training. He started to work on the ‘Salmonella Phage P22 lysogeny’ with another geneticist, Mike.
In 1965 they discovered the gene which controlled the prophage attachment and by 1967 Smith was able to publish his findings.
He returned to ‘John Hopkins’ in 1967 where he joined the ‘Department of Microbiology’ as an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and has been there ever since.
He discovered the first type-II ‘restriction enzyme’ that could break up the DNA molecule at particular points in 1968.
In 1973 he became a full professor of microbiology in the microbiology department.
During the period 1975-1976 he received a ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’ and worked with Max Birnstiel at the ‘University of Zurich’ in Switzerland on the sequencing and arrangements of the ‘histone gene’.
In 1995 Smith was successful in sequencing the genome of the ‘Haemophilus influenzae’ bacteria at ‘The Institute for Genomics Research’ or ‘TIGR’ with help of other researchers.
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He left ‘John Hopkins’ in 1998 and joined ‘Celara Genomics Corporation’ which was involved in research with private funding. He helped in the efforts being made there for the genomic sequencing in ‘fruit flies’ or ‘Drosophila’ and human beings.
He became the scientific director of the ‘Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives’ or ‘IBEA’ situated in Maryland in 2002. His basic research at this institute was on the production of a synthetic organism with a single cell that could survive and reproduce on its own. The main aim of this research was to find out the minimum number of genes that would be required to sustain life.
In 2006 Smith became the head of the synthetic biology and biological energy research group of the ‘J. Craig Venter Institute’ which was formed by merging TIGR and IBEA.
He is currently holding the post of scientific director at privately owned ‘Synthetic Genomics’ and is busy with research on bio-fuels.
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Major Work
In 1970, Hamilton Smith published his first book ‘A restriction enzyme from Hemophilus Influenza. 1. Purification and general projects’ in collaboration with Kent W. Wilcox.
His second book ‘A restriction enzyme from Hemophilus influenza. 11. Base sequence of the recognition site’ in collaboration with T. J. Kelly was published in 1970.
His third and fourth books in collaboration with P. H. Roy titled ‘The DNA methylases of Hemophilus influenza Rd. 1. Purification and properties’, and ‘The DNA methylases of Hemophilus influenzae Rd. 11, Partial recognition site base sequences’, were published in 1973.
Awards & Achievements
Hamilton Smith received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978.
Personal Life & Legacy
Hamilton O. Smith married Elizabeth Anne Bolton, a nursing student from Mexico City in 1956 after joining the JHU medical school where he met her.
He has four sons and a daughter from the marriage.
Hamilton Smith loves to play the piano and listen to classical music during his spare time.

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