Hamilton Smith
#1706 Overall Influence

Hamilton Smith

American biologist

About

Why is this person notable and influential?

Hamilton Smith, M. D., is a microbiologist, distinguished professor and scientific director of Synthetic Biology & Bioenergy at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in San Diego, California. He earned a B.A. in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1952 and a M.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1956. He interned at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and completed a Medical Residency at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. From 1962 to 1967 he did a fellowship in the Human Genetics department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. From 1967 to 1998 he was Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He is co-credited with discovering Hindll, the first type II restriction enzyme and his work with DNA methylases and bacterial host restriction. He went on to earn, with Werner Arber and Daniel Nathans, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for their work on type II restriction enzymes.

His later work has focused on genomics. He contributed to the first sequencing of a bacterial genome, and was instrumental in the mapping of the human genome. While working with the J. Craig Venter Institute, he has worked on the creation of partially synthetic life.

Most recently, Smith has been focusing on better understanding the genetic requirements for minimal bacterial life, as well as the mechanism of DNA cassette insertional mutagenesis in yeast.

Academic Website

Featured in Top Influential Biologists Today

Other Resources

Dr. Smith answers “What got you started?”

  1. How did you get started as a biologist? (If possible, start when you were a teenager, since that’s our primary audience)
    • My father bought me a $1 Gilbert Chemistry set in 1936 when I was 5 years old and we did simple experiments together. When I was 11 and my brother was 12, we set up a basement chem lab from paper route earnings. We also experimented with radios, Tesla coils, etc. My interest in biology developed when I was in college from introductory biology courses and from reading papers in genetics and neuroscience that involved mathematics (my major). The Watson and Crick discovery of DNA structure in 1953 cemented my interest in biology as a career.
  2. When did you realize that you were onto something special, something that ended up influencing the world quite a bit?
    • As a beginning assistant professor at Hopkins Med school, I and my first grad student were studying genetic transformation of DNA in the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae when we made the chance discovery that foreign DNA was cleaved into pieces after uptake whereas the cells own DNA was not. It was my first incursion into biochemistry, and I decided to purify and study the “restriction enzyme”. It took a year or two to understand the importance of the work.
  3. What things excite you now about your career as a biologist?
    • Ever since I started doing biological research, I had focused on DNA. After all, DNA encodes in its 4-base sequence, the full information to build and run an organism, be it a bacterium, or a human. Clearly over time we would be able to read that information. That is my goal.

Schools

What schools is this person affiliated with?
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley

Public research university in Berkeley, California, United States

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University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Public research university in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, United States

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Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University

University in Baltimore, Maryland, United States

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Influence Rankings by Discipline

How’s this person influential?
#191 World Rank #68 USA Rank
Biology