Paul Berg (1926 – 2023)

Paul Berg (1926 – 2023)

Author: ChemistryViews

Emeritus Professor Paul Berg, Stanford University, CA, USA, has passed away on February 15, 2023. He received the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard for recombinant DNA” (prize shared with Walter Gilbert and Frederick Sanger) and is often credited with being the pioneer of genetic engineering, as he was the first to introduce DNA from one organism into another.

In 1967/68, Paul Berg developed the idea that virus-mediated tumour formation was related to an integration of the virus genome into the host cell genome and the subsequent expression of viral genes in the host cell. He used SV40 as a model organism for tumour research and development of what is now known as recombinant DNA techniques. In 1972, Berg published the results of an experiment in which a “hybdrid genome” was generated in his laboratory from the viral chromosome and plasmid DNA. The plasmid contained parts of the DNA of the bacteriophage lambda and three E.-coli genes, which are responsible for bacterial galactose utilisation. In 1979, he successfully expressed the rabbit β-globin gene in monkey kidney cells using SV40.

Despite his contributions to genetic engineering, Berg also warned of its risks and played a major role in the international moratorium on genetic engineering established at the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA in 1975, which imposed a voluntary waiver on certain sensitive experiments for several years.


Paul Berg was born in Brooklyn, New York City, USA, on June 30, 1926. He earned his Ph.D. in 1952 from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, USA, after studying biochemistry at Penn State University, USA. From 1952 to 1954 he was a postdoctoral fellow with the American Cancer Society, working at the Institute of Cytophysiology in Copenhagen, Denmark, and at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA. In 1954 he was a fellow in cancer research at the Department of Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, USA, and in 1955 at Clare Hall, Cambridge, UK. He was a professor at Washington University School of Medicine from 1955 to 1959, at Stanford University from 1959 to 2000, where he taught biochemistry and served as director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine from 1985 to 2000. He retired from his administrative and teaching positions in 2000 but continued to conduct research.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Paul Berg received numerous awards for his contributions to science, including the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry in 1959, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1980, the National Medal of Science für Biologie in 1983, the Max-Delbrück-Medaille in 1999, and the Biotechnology Heritage Award in 2005. He was also a member of various scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Académie des sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and he was a Fellow der American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Selected Publications


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