The witty genius

Since when he was at the Dreher High School of Columbia (USA), Dr. Mullis proved to be an impertinent youngster gifted with a strong sense of humour and soon became a leader among the students. In the years that followed he accumulated academic titles and important assignments and devoted himself to paediatrics, biochemistry and cardiology. In 1979 he worked for the Cetus Corporation of Emeryville, California and as a chemist specialized in DNA he worked at a research on the synthesis of oligonucleotides, i.e. the building blocks that compose DNA and he invented the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
He had the real intuition about how to multiply DNA billions of times in 1983. The legend narrates that Dr. Mullis was going home from the laboratory on an evening like many others and his mind was lost in hazy thoughts but suddenly he noticed that the path he was walking on was made up of many sections arranged one after the other like the rungs of a ladder. He went on walking and the path divided at a junction. This reminded him of the two strands of DNA that divide before replicating, and then, suddenly, the street lights that lined the path came on one after the other because it was getting dark. The brainwave hit him in a second: a way to make infinite copies of DNA strands from a single portion came to his mind. He turned around and ran back along the illuminated path to the laboratory to try and put his ingenious idea into practise.
Dr. Mullis’ career continued brilliantly, he received the Nobel Prize and another very prestigious prize, the Japan Prize. He worked on both technological researches and on those regarding the photochemistry of DNA. In one of his most successful books, ‘Dancing Naked in the Mind Field’, written in the year 2000, his sense of humour and brilliance can be appreciated in disparate sections: he writes about poisonous spiders, about science and parapsychology, about astrology and the Hiv virus.

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