Menu

Renowned Molecular Biologist Dies

Alexander Rich, discoverer of Z-DNA, the RNA-DNA double helix, and the structure of collagen, has passed away at age 90.

May 6, 2015
Kerry Grens

DONNA COVENEYLong-time MIT biologist Alexander Rich died last month (April 27) at age 90. His scientific contributions were fundamental to understanding the structure of DNA, RNA, and other components of the cell.

“I can think of no one else who has made as many major contributions to all facets of modern molecular biology,” Robert Gallo of the University of Maryland School of Medicine told The New York Times.

Having trained with Linus Pauling, James Watson, and Francis Crick during the 1950s, Rich’s career centered on working out the structural configurations of DNA and RNA. In 1960, as a new professor at MIT, Rich demonstrated that DNA and RNA could pair up. Years later, he took advantage of X-ray crystallography to prove the double helical structure of nucleic acid molecules and the shape of several RNAs, including transfer RNA.

In 1979, Rich and colleagues reported the discovery of left-handed DNA (as opposed to the conventional right-handed double helix), also known as Z-DNA. “After the initial discovery, many labs set out to understand the biology of Z-DNA, which turned out to be a much more difficult endeavor than discovering the structure in the first place,” Thomas Schwartz, an MIT professor who worked on Z-DNA as a graduate student in Rich’s lab, said in a statement. “While we still do not fully understand its biological role, the work on Z-DNA emphasized perhaps more than any other single piece of data how important the three-dimensional conformation of DNA in the context of the cell is.”

Rich’s contributions extended beyond the lab to industry; he cofounded the biotech companies Alkemes and Repligen. “Everybody thinks of Alex as a great scientist, and no doubt he contributed greatly to the study of DNA,” Repligen’s CEO Walter Herlihy told Boston Business Journal. “But the thing that stood out to me was, Alex stood out as a mentor . . . he just inspired so many scientists.”

Rich is survived by his wife, four children, and seven grandchildren.

February 2019

Big Storms Brewing

Can forests weather more major hurricanes?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced that its QXDx AutoDG ddPCR System, which uses Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR technology, and the QXDx BCR-ABL %IS Kit are the industry’s first digital PCR products to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Used together, Bio-Rad’s system and kit can precisely and reproducibly monitor molecular response to treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today showcases new automation features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer during the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening 2019 International Conference and Exhibition (SLAS) in Washington, D.C., February 2–6. These capabilities enable the ZE5 to be used for high-throughput flow cytometry in biomarker discovery and phenotypic screening.
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Researchers to benefit from an innovative software-connected pipetting system, bringing improved reproducibility and traceability of experiments to life-science laboratories.
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) will showcase advanced 3D cell culture technologies and workflow solutions for spheroids, organoids, tissue models, and applications including ADME/toxicology at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference, Feb. 2-6 in Washington, D.C.