Newsletter No. 57

Vol. 5‧8 No.57 A u g u s t 1994 T a m p e r i n g w i t h D N A M o l e c u l e s The 1993 No b el p r i z e - w i n n i ng biochemist Kary B. Mullis visited the University last month as Wei Lun Visiting Professor and delivered a public lecture on 'Nucleic Acids: From Long Stringy Molecules to the Polymerase Chain Reaction' on 19th July. Dr. Mullis revealed to the CUHK audience how a m i d n i g ht drive through the moonlit mountains of California had given h im the inspiration for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PGR) technique, which is now a standard laboratory tool for genetic research. Inside of every living cell on the planet Earth are nucleic acids, along whose long stringy molecules are written instructions that govern the structural detail of every l i v i ng creature. And PGR is a simple method that can make unlimited copies of such hereditary material (or DNA) that exists in all living organisms. 'Outof the long stringy molecules (of DNA), complex and annoying to work with, PGR can make little, orderly, well-behaved pieces of DNA in whatever size and amount is convenient. It can splice them together, cut them apart, add something here, delete something there.... It has done for DNA chemistry what the word processor did for writing,' said Dr. Mullis. The technique has widespread applications, f r om copying DNA contained in a drop of dried blood at the scene of a crime to obtaining significant amounts of genetic material from a single molecule of DNA found in plant or animal fossils. ' DNA has been tamed, and all the information it contains is in our hands.... In it we can find traces of our past, and if we can use it wisely it will help us direct our future toward peace and prosperity for all mankind,' he concluded. Dr. Mullis now works in La Jolla, California, as a private consultant on the PGR technology and nucleic acid chemistry. C h e m i s t r y D e p a r t m e n t t o R u n I n s t r u m e n t a t i o n W o r k s h o p s f o r Y o u n g S c i e n t i s t s f r o m C h i n a A series of instrumentation workshops for young scientists from China will be organized by the Department of Chemistry from 1995, fully utilizing a wide range of state-of-the-art research instruments within the department. The workshops will be operated within the conceptual framework of an open chemical laboratory, the purpose of which is not to set up a separate new research laboratory but to make the modem instruments available for the training of young Chinese scientists, including those from less privileged institutions. Tentatively five summer workshops will be conducted in three years by faculty members and external experts. Trainees will gain practical knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of particular types of equipment, and acquire valuable hands-on experience in operating and maintaining them. After training, they will be less dependent on suppliers, more prepared to carry out research that requires the use of sophisticated instruments, and better able to make the right decisions when purchasing research equipment for their projects. The open chemical laboratory marks a major milestone in academic collaboration between faculty members of the Department of Chemistry and their counterparts in mainland China. The project is financed by a generous donation of HK$2.1 million from the Lee Hysan Foundation. As the young trainees return to NO.57AUGUST 1994 1