Singing The Praises of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)
“Honey, you’re the key to my PCR.” Before wallowing in self-pity for never having dropped this line at the various open bar gatherings courtesy of the MBP department, let us ponder for a second the discovery, as well as the discoverer, of what is perhaps the most emblematic staple of the modern molecular biology lab. PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, allows a specific region of DNA to be exponentially amplified in vitro through a simple enzymatic process. The simplicity and elegance of this technique was nothing short of revolutionary, so much so that its advent represents a watershed moment in the field of molecular biology, dividing the latter into a pre- and post-PCR age. From its diverse applications, ranging from DNA cloning to paternal testing (in case of some baby momma drama), PCR has found itself to be an indispensable tool in the arsenal of any biologist.
Controversy aside, it is generally accepted that Kary Mullis was the eccentric brain behind the discovery of PCR. One can easily argue that Mullis is just as intriguing as the technique he invented. After all, how many Nobel laureates can you count that have had encounters with glowing raccoons on parallel astral planes, are good at surfing and can count their LSD experience as one of the driving forces behind their creative scientific insight. Kary Mullis is quite the character. You have to admit that if nothing else, there’s just something endearing about a guy that is unabashed in declaring during his Nobel Lecture the bittersweet irony of being dumped right before receiving such a prestigious award, “neither [assistant] Fred, empty Beck's bottles, nor the sweet smell of the dawn of the age of PCR could replace Jenny.” However, his freewheeling ascription to the HIV denialist camp is a blemish in what is otherwise an exceptional life story.
So, to all you eccentric scientists out there, doing PCR, Kary Mullis salutes you.
Here is the prequel in case you couldn’t get enough of it!