On January 10, 2017, we lost one of the great researchers in the mouse genetics field. Dr. Oliver Smithies passed away at age 91. Dr. Smithies shared the Nobel Prize with Drs. Martin Evans and Mario Capecchi for the seminal achievement of achieving homologous recombination in mouse embryonic stem cells leading to the development of targeted mouse models. Truly, this research expanded our field greatly.
Dr. Smithies was born in Halifax in the UK, and was known for the development of the use of starch for gel electrophoresis during his early career. He was a graduate of Oxford, where he studied chemistry after finding it more interesting than medical school. He moved from the UK to the University of Toronto, and then to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the time of his passing, he was an emeritus professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
If you never had the opportunity to hear Dr. Smithies speak, you truly missed an opportunity. In a seminar given at an AALAS meeting, he began by apologizing to the animal technicians there for vastly increasing their work. He then went on to show pictures taken from his laboratory notebooks that showed his seminal developments in figuring out homologous recombination in mouse ES cells. His talk was absolutely memorable and inspiring! While he was given many awards, his co-awarded Nobel Prize in 2007 was truly the most prestigious.
In memoriam, we will miss Dr. Smithies for his wisdom, his collaborative spirit and his unassuming and gentle nature.