Howard Martin Temin Biography

(American Geneticist, Virologist and Winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine)

Birthday: December 10, 1934 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Howard Martin Temin was an American geneticist and virologist who won a share of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. A medical researcher, he played a major role in discovering an enzyme that is used to generate complementary DNA (cDNA) from an RNA template, a process termed reverse transcription. His discoveries helped to gain an understanding of how some cancer cells operate and later played a crucial role in identifying the AIDS virus. Born to a mother who was active in educational affairs, he was academically inclined from a young age. During his high school years, he participated in a summer program at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor which kindled his interest in biological sciences. He published his first scientific paper at the age 18 and received his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College in 1955 majoring and minoring in biology in the honors program. After earning his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology he embarked on a career in research during the course of which he made key contributions to the study of cancer. He independently discovered reverse transcriptase which is one of the most important discoveries of the modern era of medicine. In an ironic twist of fate, the cancer researcher was himself diagnosed with the disease and succumbed to it at the age of 59.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 59


Spouse/Ex-: Rayla Greenberg (m. 1962)

Born Country: United States

Virologists Geneticists

Died on: February 9, 1994

place of death: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Medicine

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

City: Philadelphia

More Facts

education: California Institute Of Technology, Swarthmore College

awards: 1975 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1974 - Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
1974 - Gairdner Foundation International Award

1972 - NAS Award in Molecular Biology
1992 - National Medal of Science for Biological Sciences

Childhood & Early Life
Howard Martin Temin was born in Philadelphia on December 10, 1934, to Jewish parents. His mother, Annette Lehman, was an activist who was often involved in educational affairs and his father, Henry Temin, was an attorney. Howard had two brothers.
While he was a student at Central High School in Pennsylvania, he participated in the Jackson Laboratory's Summer Student Program in Bar Harbor where he displayed an extraordinary aptitude for science. He also spent a summer at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.
He joined the Swarthmore College in 1951 and graduated in 1955 with a bachelor's degree, majoring and minoring in biology in the honors program. He then proceeded to study experimental embryology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. After several months he changed his major to animal virology, becoming a graduate student in the laboratory of Professor Renato Dulbecco.
At the institute he was greatly influenced by Professor Max Delbrück and by Dr. Matthew Meselson. Temin earned his Ph.D. degree in animal virology in 1959 and spent an addition year in Professor Dulbecco's laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow.
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He was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960. It was here that he began working on the ground breaking research that led to his formulating the DNA provirus hypothesis.
Over the ensuing years he rose through the ranks, successively becoming Associate Professor, Full Professor, and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Professor of Cancer Research. He was made the American Cancer Society Professor of Viral Oncology and Cell Biology in 1974.
During the 1960s, he focused on studying the Rous sarcoma virus. His investigations on the control of multiplication of uninfected and Rous sarcoma virus-infected cells in culture led him to the discovery of reverse transcriptase (RT)—the enzyme used to generate complementary DNA (cDNA) from an RNA template.
Initially his discovery was criticized by prominent scientists as the idea of RT contradicted the central dogma of molecular biology which states that DNA is transcribed into RNA which is then translated into proteins. At around the same time, another scientist, David Baltimore, independently isolated RT from two RNA tumor viruses and the concept of RT began to gain acceptance.
For his discoveries Temin won a share of the 1975 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine. His elevated stature as an internationally respected scientist motivated him to become more active in scientific community outside of research.
In 1979, he became an advisory member for the director of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The same year he also became a member of the human gene therapy subgroup of the recombinant DNA advisory committee. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences as well.
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Major Works
Temin independently discovered reverse transcriptase which is an enzyme used to generate complementary DNA (cDNA) from an RNA template through a process termed as reverse transcription. He initially faced much criticism for his idea of reverse transcription as it contradicted the central dogma of molecular biology. With time he gained recognition for this vital discovery which is today of tremendous significance to medical research.
Awards & Achievements
In 1972, he was given the NAS Award in Molecular Biology for his work leading to the discovery of reverse transcription.
Howard Martin Temin, David Baltimore, and Renato Dulbecco were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 "for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell."
Personal Life & Legacy
Howard Martin Temin married Rayla Greenberg, a medical geneticist, in 1962 and had two children.
He was a non-smoker and a vocal crusader against cigarettes. Ironically he became ill with adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer that is not linked to smoking. He remained active for as long as his health allowed him to, and breathed his last on February 9, 1994.
A walking path along Lake Mendota at UW–Madison was renamed the Howard M. Temin Path in his honor in 1998.

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