dnature diagnostics & research

qPCR inventor and his NZ connection

Originally published in May, 2014

‘”we were interested to see if we could do it from hair . . .and we were the only ones around doing PCR”

So you might have read the blog entry about the visit to see the first thermalcycler “Mr Cycle” at the Smithsonian. You haven’t?
Sorry, another old blog article I need to put up. Check back soon.

Anyway, I mentioned to Mallory (who kindly showed me the items at the Smithsonian) about the invention of qPCR and the original apparatus. Upon leaving, I contacted the person involved in those early days (including the photo of myself with Mr Cycle) and he replied back about how Mr Cycle had been on the bench next to him when he joined Cetus. Unfortunately the original qPCR apparatus had been disbanded – as he wrote “It was really just a light stand, a camera, a thermocycler, a light source and a PCR brought together”

Not much of a clue as to who this is – but if you’ve written a thesis or dissertation that talked about preventing PCR contamination, its highly possible you may have cited his seminal paper on avoiding it. His papers have been cited more than 25,000 times in all.

He invited us to a great lunch. I had been taken by his humility when we first met some years ago and he displayed this once again during lunch – upon mentioning his Nature paper on amplification of DNA from a single hair, he waved it off with a nonchalant shrug ‘”we were interested to see if we could do it from hair . . .and we were the only ones around doing PCR”

So this humble character is Dr Russ Higuchi. He is not only known for inventing real-time PCR in 1992 but also many of the algorithms we still use today: qPCR efficiencies, standard curves and the absolute quantification methods.
He was also the co-author of the aforementioned Nature paper on avoiding PCR contamination, first paper on forensic use of PCR (the amplification of DNA from single hairs – Nature again), the 2nd paper on long PCR, original paper on using Taq in PCR . . and the list goes on.

John with Dr Russ Higuchi

After lunch we saw the labs and instruments of Cepheid where Russ currently works and heard about some of the tests he’s currently working on.

Russ in front of his ‘patent wall’.
The top article refers to his first cloning of DNA from an extinct animal (Jurassic Park claims . . in the days before Jurassic Park !)

And that New Zealand connection? The mention of his cloning DNA from extinct animals may have given it away? Russ was a post-doc of the New Zealand scientist Allan Wilson. The connection of Alan and his lab to the advent of PCR has also been described in another old blog post.

Thanks for the visit Russ and here’s to a most humble of giants in the molecular biology world. . .

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