At Radyus Research, we understand the importance that individuals of all backgrounds contribute to biotechnology and other scientific fields of study. Whether through research, preclinical trials, or breakthrough discoveries, some of the most notable work conducted by American scientists has come through the hard work and dedication of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) scientists. Despite the obstacles they faced, these individuals were able to put forth groundbreaking research that fundamentally improved their scientific fields of study. To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we highlight the achievements of some of the incredible AAPI scientists throughout history.
Har Gobind Khorana
Har Gobind Khorana was an Indian American biochemist known for his work in electron diffraction. He was born in India and moved to England to earn his PhD. During a fellowship at the University of Cambridge in 1951, he began researching nucleic acids. In 1960, he moved to America where he held a professorship at the University of Wisconsin. Soon after becoming a United States citizen in 1966, Khorana became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During this time, Khorana conducted innovative research that confirmed that the way that four types of nucleotides are arranged in a DNA molecule determines the composition and function of a new cell. He was able to contribute additional research regarding which combinations of nucleotides form which specific amino acids. In 1968, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine due to this research showing how nucleotides control the cell’s synthesis of proteins. Other notable awards Khorana received include the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the National Medal of Science.
Ocampo-Friedmann was a Filipino American microbiologist and botanist who researched life in extreme conditions. Her work was even cited in recent studies regarding the process of terraforming on Mars. Ocampo-Friedmann was born in the Philippines in 1937 and pursued a degree in botany at the University of the Philippines. After graduating, she travelled to the United States to work with Dr. Imre Friedmann at Florida State University and earned her PhD there in 1973. She worked several roles as both a professor for different Florida universities as well as a scientific consultant for SETI Institute.
In 1974, Ocampo-Friedmann married Imre Friedmann. She and her husband travelled across the globe to study plant matter. Their work specialized in areas of extreme conditions where life is spare but resilient. She made her most notable discovery in Antarctica in the Ross Desert, an area seemingly without any life. She found a type of microorganism called cryptoendoliths which could tolerate extreme cold, thaw in the summer, and photosynthesize during warmer weather. They took these microorganisms and grew them in a lab. Through this process, they realized that these life forms had spread far and wide within the region despite harsh conditions. They published their findings that life can exist even in the most unlikely of places and were cited by NASA during work conducted to find life on Mars. For her work, she was awarded the Antarctic Service Medal in 1981 by the National Science Foundation.
Charles John Pedersen
Charles John Pedersen was a Korean American organic chemist who is known for his work in finding methods of synthesizing crown ethers. Pedersen was born in Pusan, Korea and eventually moved to America to study chemical engineering at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue his master’s degree in organic chemistry. Instead of pursuing a PhD, Pedersen began his career at DuPont Company after receiving his master’s degree.
After leaving DuPont, Pedersen decided to focus on his own chemical career and work on the problems he was most interested in. Some areas he decided to focus on were oxidative degradation and the stabilization of substrate. His research had significant influence; he published 25 papers and secured 65 patents during his career. He was granted the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987 for his work synthesizing crown ethers. He was also awarded a medal for excellence by the DuPont Research Fellows.
David Ho is a Taiwanese American virologist best known for his research and contributions regarding the understanding and treatment of HIV. Ho came to America during his teenage years and earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from the California Institute of Technology and his MD for the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. While conducting his clinical training at UCLA School of Medicine in 1981, he witnessed some of the first reported cases of AIDS. From then, he contributed to the early-stage efforts in HIV/AIDS research. Ho’s team conducted studies to elucidate the dynamics of HIV replication in vivo, demonstrating for the first time that HIV could be managed and did not have to automatically result in death.
In more recent years, Ho has shifted his focus from clinical virology to finding methods to prevent transmission. His group is currently leading in the effort to develop approaches to block HIV transmission, with highly promising results. Ho is also highly involved in the development new solutions for the testing, prevention, and treatment of the novel coronavirus. Ho’s extensive efforts earned him numerous honors, including the title of Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1996 and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.