Celebrating Spartans: Alfred Hershey


EAST LANSING, MI (WLNS) – 6 News has the story of a Spartan who many say is a founding father of molecular genetics.

Among the nearly 600 Nobel Prize winners since 1901 only one received his degree from Michigan State.

Alfred Hershey was born in 1908 in Owosso. Dr. Hershey got his Bachelor’s Degree in 1930 from what was then Michigan State College and received his PhD in bacteriology in 1934.

His famous blender experiment with Martha Chase in 1952 proved that DNA, not protein was the code for life.

That experiment led him to win a Nobel Prize for medicine 17 years later.

“What you could do is you could put the DNA in these little slots.”

MSU professor Chris Waters, who teaches microbial genetics, says Hershey’s findings led to the field of genetics, and opened the door to modern forensics, cancer research and much more.

Hershey was the first one to sort of develop these techniques for separating DNA and actually having ways to quantify the size of DNA and working on it.

The ideas and techniques that Hershey discovered are still used by Michigan State students.

“I mated in a p-cast vector to knock out the toxar gene of bibliocholera.”

Masters student John Shook is trying to understand how bacteria cause disease and design new antibiotics that target them.

Shook and others say they’re inspired by walking in the same footsteps as Hershey.

“What I’m doing in lab every day came from a guy who got his education here. It’s just incredible, unbelievable.”

“It’s really cool to me that someone from this small town went and like totally changed the world.”

He changed the world starting from a small town, to a Big Ten university and beyond.

“His contribution really can’t be overstated in terms of the contribution to biology that he’s had.”

A contribution that’s more significant than any award.

“A Nobel Prize is great, but to say okay, you discovered what the genetic code of life is, I mean that’s changing, you know knowledge as we know it.”

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