We would like to highlight Linda B. Buck today, she won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for her work on olfactory receptors, Via Achievement.org
Linda Buck was born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. Her father was an electrical engineer by profession and an inventor by avocation, while her mother enjoyed solving puzzles of all kinds. Linda Buck believes her father’s inventiveness and her mother’s love of problem-solving contributed to her own later passion for science. Both parents taught her to think independently and assured her she had the ability to do anything she set out to do in life.
To learn the newest techniques of molecular biology, she pursued postdoctoral research at Columbia University, beginning in 1980. At Columbia, she gravitated towards the laboratory of Dr. Richard Axel, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who first developed the transfer techniques that enable us to study genes in vitro.
Building on Axel’s studies of the neurons of the sea snail Aplysia, she undertook to develop a technique for identifying and cloning genes that may be expressed in one Aplysia neuron, but not in others. As her mastery of the techniques of molecular biology grew, Buck became increasingly fascinated with applying this science to the understanding of the brain, with its enormous diversity of cells and neural connections.
Near the end of her Aplysia project she read a paper that, by her own account, changed her life. There are few mysteries more profound and intriguing than how the stimuli received by our senses are encoded as impressions in the brain. The 1985 paper, by Solomon Snyder’s research group at Johns Hopkins University, discussed the potential mechanisms that might underlie odor detection. The human sense of smell can identify 10,000 or more different chemicals, and reacts completely differently to compounds that are nearly identical at the molecular level. Dr. Buck had never considered the process before and was fascinated.
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