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Pioneer In Science: Mary-Claire King

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Published on Aug 12, 2015

Every successful scientist seems to have a “once in a blue moon” discovery during his or her lifework: an accident or epiphany that unexpectedly leads to a serendipitous breakthrough. Geneticist Mary-Claire King has had four.

As a student at Berkeley in the 1960s, Mary-Claire King stumbled upon a weapon that could be used to fight social injustice as well as biological injustice—like cancer—in our own bodies. That weapon was genetics. By leveraging this biological tool, King has discovered the fundamental link between chimpanzees and humans, reunited families torn apart by military juntas through the use of mitochondrial DNA, discovered the “breast cancer gene,” BRCA1, and revealed how genes drive susceptibility to disease but also provide a powerful new way to revolutionize treatment. King’s work has not only been groundbreaking, but has changed the lives of countless people.

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