Mullis’s impact on the world of biotechnology has been described as no less than revolutionary. While employed at the Cetus Corporation in Emeryville, California, he conceived and developed the idea of PCR, polymerase chain reaction, in 1983.
Scientist. Born in Lenoir, North Carolina, on December 28, 1944, Mullis is the son of Cecil Banks Mullis and Bernice Alberta Barker. When he was five years old, Mullis and his family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where his father worked as a furniture salesman and his mother, after a separation, sold real estate. He attended public schools and graduated from Dreher High School in 1962. He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1966 and obtained his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973. He then pursued postdoctoral studies at the University of Kansas Medical School and the University of California at San Francisco. While an undergraduate, he married his first wife, Richards, and had a daughter. Several years later he married his second wife, Cynthia Gibson, and they had two sons. In 1998 Mullis married his third wife, Nancy Cosgrove, and shortly thereafter the couple moved to Newport Beach, California.
Mullis’s impact on the world of biotechnology has been described as no less than revolutionary. While employed at the Cetus Corporation in Emeryville, California, he conceived and developed the idea of PCR, polymerase chain reaction, in 1983. This technique amplifies DNA, enabling scientists to make a virtually unlimited number of copies of a single DNA molecule in a short time. The process of PCR found multiple applications in medicine, genetics, and forensics and was the technology behind the highly popular book and movie Jurassic Park, in which DNA from dinosaurs was cloned and used to re-create the extinct giant reptiles. Considered by many scientists to be one of the greatest advancements in molecular biology, Mullis’s work on PCR garnered him (along with Michael Smith of the University of British Columbia) a share of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 in recognition of his milestone discovery.
Despite the fame that PCR brought to Mullis, he later focused his attention elsewhere. According to Mullis, he became “tired of PCR” and turned to other areas of science and technology. As a member of the Group for the Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, a five-hundred-member protest organization pushing for a reexamination of the cause of AIDS, he became embroiled in controversy concerning the nature of the AIDS virus and the causes of AIDS. Additionally he consulted and lectured around the world on topics ranging from cosmology, mysticism, mathematics, virology, and artificial intelligence. In 1998 he published a book, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field. Mullis maintained close ties to his South Carolina roots despite living on the opposite coast. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of South Carolina in 1994, and he co-owns an oil-recycling company in Charleston.
Mullis, Kary B. Dancing Naked in the Mind Field. New York: Pantheon, 1998.