Maxine Frank Singer helped in deciphering the human genetic code and the chemical language that DNA uses to create the proteins that keep our bodies going and growing.
Maxine Frank Singer was born on February 15, 1931 in New York City. Maxine Singer is an American molecular biologist and science administrator. After attending public high school in Brooklyn, she majored in chemistry and minored in biology at the Swarthmore College. She researched on protein chemistry under Joseph Fruton and earned a Ph.D. in the year 1957 at Yale University.
She was encouraged by Fruton to specialize in nucleic acids. In 1956, she joined the Laboratory of Biochemistry of Leon Heppel at the National Institutes of Health. Singer produced synthetic nucleotides through her work on RNA synthesis. These nucleotides were used in Marshall Nirenberg's experiments in establishing the triplet nature of the genetic code.
Chemical Language of DNA
DNA is the molecule that carries all the genetic information for living things and has always been the focus of Maxine Singer's research. Singer helped in deciphering the human genetic code and the chemical language that DNA uses to create the proteins that keep our bodies going and growing. She studied the disease-related genes that actually jump from place to place in DNA. One of her special concerns is the recombinant DNA technology.
Singer was one of the first people to call attention to the possible risks involved in genetic engineering. She was the chairperson of the 1973 Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids, where the possible public health risks of the technique were discussed, and she helped to organize the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA that resulted in guidelines for dealing with the largely unknown risks of the technique.
Singer's most important discovery since her contribution towards deciphering the genetic code came in the 1980s, even though, as head of the large Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Cancer Institute, she was spending more than half of her time on administration and support of her laboratory's 15 research groups. Singer had begun to focus on a large family of repeated stretches of mammalian DNA called LINEs, or long interspersed nucleotide elements, that are present with very little variation in the genomes of all mammals. Focusing on LINE-1, a DNA sequence repeated and interspersed thousands of times in human chromosomal DNA, Singer concluded that it is capable of transposition, or movement and insertion into new places on chromosomal DNA. (It is, in fact, to this point the only known human transposable element.) She studied the precise mechanism whereby LINE-1 replicates and disperses copies to new locations along the genome. She also posited that the insertion of transposable genetic elements into new genomic locations can induce mutations in nearby genes, and that LINE-1 transposition played an important role in genetic diseases. Researchers later confirmed Singer's suspicion when they found that LINE-1 insertions into a gene whose protein product is required for blood clotting are associated with hemophilia.
Singer's most important contribution to molecular biology did not lie in a single, seminal discovery. Instead, she worked over the course of four decades to detail the chemical structure and regulation of genomes in bacterial, viral, and, ultimately, human cells. Her research helped elucidate the crucial role of RNA in the transfer of genetic messages, the action of proteins on human chromosomal DNA, and the presence of transposable elements in the human genome. Her work on genetic recombination in animal viruses in the early 1970s also drew her into the growing controversy over recombinant DNA research and genetic engineering.
She discovered that these long interspersed nucleotide elements (LINEs) are capable of transposition on the genome and the mechanism by which this happens. Her hypothesis that these transpositions play an important role in genetic diseases and this has been confirmed by other scientists.
Singer has spent her career as a scientist and public advocate and has also been involved in programs to improve the quality of science education at all levels right from kindergarten to postdoctoral study.