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The Boston Globe

Opinion

opinion | Nathaniel P. Morris

Congress can’t micromanage science

In 1965, a man named Thomas Brock went to Yellowstone National Park to do some experiments. He was a microbiologist from Indiana University and thought it might be interesting to study how certain bacteria lived among the park’s hot springs. The National Science Foundation had decided to fund the project, and Brock spent years probing the waters and collecting samples.

Soon after the start of the study, Brock and one of his students happened to isolate a bacterium that survived at temperatures around 160 degrees Fahrenheit. They called it Thermus aquaticus and published some papers. Over a decade later, a biochemist named Kary Mullis speculated that the heat-stable enzymes from these bacteria could be used to artificially replicate DNA. The procedure could have limitless applications, from identifying species to diagnosing disease. He tested the concept in a lab and found that it actually worked. His method — polymerase chain reaction — ushered in the age of modern genetics and molecular biology. For his efforts, Mullis was awarded a Nobel Prize.

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