Maxine Singer received the Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry in 1957 from Yale University. Her interest in nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) began during her post-doctoral work in Leon Heppel's laboratory at the National Institutes of Health and has never flagged. Until 1975, she was a Research Biochemist in the Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, NIH. During that period she worked on the synthesis and structure of RNA and applied this experience to the work that elucidated the genetic code. She described and studied enzymes that degraded RNA in bacteria. By 1970 she became interested in animal viruses and took a sabbatical leave in the laboratory of Ernest Winocour (1971-1972) at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. There she began work on aspects of simian virus 40.
Moving to the National Cancer Institute in 1975, she continued this work studying defective SV40 viruses whose genomes contain regions of DNA from the host monkey cells. She also carried out investigations on interaction between histone H1 and DNA as it relates to the structure of chromatin. In the same year she served on the organizing committee for the Asilomar Meeting on Recombinant DNA molecules, the first public discussion of the implication of these new methods. The work on defective SV40 led to an interest in highly repeated DNA sequences in primate, including human genomes. This led in turn, to the discovery of a transposable element (jumping gene) in human DNA, the topic that is now the subject of her research. Looking back, Dr. Singer's scientific interests have evolved from an emphasis on chemistry to an increasing interest in biological phenomena. Her current research aims to elucidate the mechanism whereby the only known human transposable element replicates and disperses copies to the new genomic locations, a process which can be mutagenic.
In 1988 she became President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, retaining her laboratory and the title Scientist Emeritus at the NIH. At Carnegie she has renewed her interest in the range of sciences investigated at the Institution's departments: earth science, astronomy, plant and developmental biology. She has also initiated programs designed to improve scientific understanding by the general public including the training of elementary school teachers and a Saturday program for children--First Light.
A member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and its Institute of Medicine, Dr. Singer served as chairman of the Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Previously she served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Science magazines.
Dr. Singer was a fellow (trustee) of the Yale Corporation (1975-1990), is a member of Governing Board of the Weizmann Institute of Science and co-chairman of its Scientific and Academic Advisory Committee, and is also a member of the Board of Johnson & Johnson.
In 1988, Dr. Singer received the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award, the highest honor given to a civil servant, and in 1992 she received the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor bestowed by the President of the United States "for her outstanding scientific accomplishments and her deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist."
Mendel Medal Presentation Program, January 20, 1996. Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania.