Daniel Nathans

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Wilmington, Delaware
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Wilmington, Delaware

Daniel Nathans was an American microbiologist who, along with Hamilton Othanel Smith of the United States and Werner Arber of Switzerland, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978. They won the prize for discovering’restriction enzymes,’ which can be used to break down DNA molecules into smaller, more manageable chunks so that the features may be investigated more thoroughly. This discovery later established the foundation for genetics study. Smith had already isolated the bacteria ‘Haemophilus influenzae,’ which Nathans employed in his research into the structure of the DNA of the’simian virus 40,’ or ‘SV40.’ This was the most basic virus known to cause malignant tumors. With the use of’restriction enzymes,’ Nathans was able to identify the molecular structure of a cancer cell by creating a genetic map of the virus. He also contributed to the development of prenatal tests for hereditary illnesses such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. He was a renowned mentor, teacher, and researcher who got numerous prizes and honors for his work. He was also a capable administrator, capable of carrying out his duties in a fair, thoughtful, deliberative, and level-headed manner.

Childhood and Adolescence

Daniel Nathans was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 30, 1928. Samuel Nathans and Sarah Levitan, both Jewish immigrants from Russia, were his parents.
Samuel and Sarah Nathans had eight children, and he was the youngest.

He attended Wilmington public schools and began working part-time jobs at the age of ten to help support his family.

He went to the ‘University of Delaware’ to study philosophy, chemistry, and literature after finishing high school.
After receiving his B.Sc. degree in chemistry from the ‘University of Delaware in 1950, he embarked on a medical career at his father’s suggestion.

In St Louis, Missouri, he enrolled in the ‘Washington University School of Medicine.’ After becoming a doctor, he intended to return to Wilmington.
Despite his enthusiasm for medical school, he was particularly drawn to laboratory research while working under the famed pharmacologist Oliver Lowry in the summer of 1951.

In 1954, he received his medical degree and decided to pursue a career in academic medicine, where he could both treat patients and conduct research.

Daniel Nathans’s Career

Daniel Nathans began working as an intern at the ‘Columbia Presbyterian Hospital,’ where he was supervised by Robert Loeb.

Before beginning his medical residency, he worked as a clinical associate at the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He split his time there between treating cancer patients who were undergoing experimental treatment and conducting research on ‘plasma-cell tumors’ identified in mice that were similar to human multiple myeloma.’

He began his research on protein synthesis in myeloma tumors’ after being surprised by the lack of information on cancer biology. He was soon able to publish his findings.
In 1957, he returned to the ‘Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’ to complete a two-year medical residency and pursue his dream of working in academic medicine.

When he had free time after treating patients, he continued his research on the problem of protein synthesis.
In 1959, he chose to devote his entire life to study and became a research associate at the ‘Fritz Lipmann laboratory’ at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ in New York.

Great mysteries like how ‘genetic material DNA’ drives the manufacture of necessary proteins and enzymes by cells were being unraveled by microbiologists, biochemists, and geneticists. It was an exciting moment for Nathans at the ‘Rockefeller Institute.’

Nathans continued his efforts to synthesize protein from extracts of myeloma-affected cells at first. When Smith, a postdoctoral colleague, persuaded him, he explored the problem with E.Coli bacteria cultures.

After three years at the ‘Rockefeller Institute,’ he decided that the science of medicine’ was superior to the ‘practice of medicine,’ and he began looking for a position where he could conduct more research and teach.

In 1972, he accepted a position as a professor of microbiology at the ‘John Hopkins University’ in Baltimore, which was offered to him by W. Barry Wood, who had been one of his mentors during medical school and now held the chair at the ‘John Hopkins University.

He proceeded to study protein synthesis, as well as the influence of antibiotics such as ‘puromycin’ on the process.
When a couple of virologists quit their jobs in the mid-1960s, he was requested to give a few talks on animal viruses. While preparing for his lectures, he became interested in viruses that cause cancer.

In 1969, he took a six-month sabbatical to study cell culture techniques and a tiny tumor virus known as simian virus 40′ or ‘SV40’ at the ‘Weizmann Institute’ in Israel.

While in Israel, his JHU colleague Hamilton Smith informed him about the bacteria ‘Haemophilus influenzae,’ which can cut the DNA of other species at specific locations. He realized right away that such an enzyme might be used to generate little uniform segments of a virus’s DNA so that its structure could be discovered and mapped.

He brought some SV40 back from Israel and began using Smith’s enzyme and other restriction enzymes’ on it. Soon after, the ‘SV40’ virus was mapped, and restriction enzymes became a standard technique in molecular biology and genetics.

Throughout the 1980s, he continued to study SV40, eventually shifting his focus from tumor viruses to cellular genes that were activated when cells were stimulated to expand and multiply.
From 1972 to 1982, he was the director of the JHU’s ‘Microbiology Department.’
From 1981 through 1999, he worked for the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes as a “Senior Investigator.”

He was the interim president of Johns Hopkins University from 1995 to 1996 before returning to his research.

His Major Projects

Throughout his career, Daniel Nathans published 138 books, articles, and chapters.

Achievements and Awards

In 1967, Daniel Nathans was awarded the ‘Selman Waksman Award’ in Microbiology.
In 1978, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, and in 1993, he received the National Medal of Science, as well as six honorary doctorates.
JHU established the ‘McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine’ in 1999.

Personal History and Legacy

He was married to attorney Joanne Gomberg, whom he met in Bethesda. Eli, Ben, and Jeremy were their three sons from their marriage.
Daniel Nathans died of leukemia in Baltimore on November 16, 1999.

Estimated Net worth

Daniel Nathan has a net worth of $ USD 5 million and earns a living as a microbiologist and biochemist. We don’t have enough information about Daniel Nathan’s cars or lifestyle.


Daniel Nathans enjoyed reading both fiction and history, as well as spending time with his family.