1993 nobel prize medal, Dr. Kary B. Mullis

Nobel medal, struck in 18 carat gold and plated in 24 carat gold, approx. 175g, 66 mm in diameter

Bonhams announces the sale of the 1993 Nobel Prize medal awarded to renowned biochemist Dr. Kary B. Mullis for his invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The sale will take place on February 14 in Pasadena, California.

To study DNA, you must be able to see it. In 1983 Mullis invented a process which amplified a single sequence of DNA into a size large enough to be visible in the laboratory. The technique revolutionized many aspects of genetic research, including diagnosis of genetic defects, detection of the AIDS virus in human calls and cloning. It also helped make remarkable strides in forensic science and evolutionary studies.

When Dr. Mullis was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the invention had “hastened the rapid development of genetic engineering” and “greatly stimulated biochemical research … [opening] the way for new applications in medicine and biology.” The lot is estimated at U.S. $450,000-550,000.

DNA was first identified in the 19th century, and its three-dimensional double helix structure famously described in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick (for which the two men received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). Little progress was made in unlocking the secrets of DNA after Watson and Crick, however, because creating usable samples in the laboratory was a tedious process, sometimes taking six months or more.

During the 1980s, while a chemist at the Cetus Corporation in Emeryville, CA, Dr. Mullis was frustrated by the long and difficult process necessary to produce DNA samples for study. In May of 1983, while driving out for a weekend in the country, he had an “aha!” moment inspired by his knowledge of computer programming, in which he discovered a way to exponentially increase the size of a DNA sample by repeatedly heating and cooling it.

This Nobel Prize is part of the Fine Books and Manuscripts sale at the Sheraton Pasadena Hotel and coincides with the 49th California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

The auction also includes a first edition of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (estimated at U.S. $70,000-90,000), a second edition of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Basel: 1566) proposing the revolutionary theory that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around (estimated at U.S. $80,000-120,000) and an autograph manuscript by Isaac Newton in Latin and English, entitled: “Praeparatio mercurij ad lapidem per regulu/ am ferrum et Lunam , ex mss. Phi Americani” [Preparation of mercury to a stone through metallic antinomy and silver: from a manuscript of an American philosopher] with an estimate of U.S. $100,000-150,000.
 

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