Michael Smith (Biochemist) | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Michael Smith (Biochemist)

Michael Smith, CC, OBC, FRSC, biochemist, professor (born 26 April 1932 in Blackpool, England; died 4 October 2000 in Vancouver, BC). In 1993, Michael Smith and Kary B. Mullis were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Smith was awarded the prize for developing site-directed mutagenesis, a technique used in genetic engineering. (See also Nobel Prizes and Canada; Biochemistry.)

Michael Smith
Michael Smith explains his research to journalists after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 13 October 1993.
(photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Education and Career

After obtaining a PhD from the University of Manchester in 1956, Michael Smith came to Canada. He came to further his training in chemistry under the mentorship of future Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khorana in Vancouver, where the latter was developing the chemistry for the synthesis of nucleic acids. Smith continued his work with Khorana after they both moved to the University of Wisconsin in 1960. In 1961, Smith returned to the campus of the University of British Columbia and began working in the Fisheries Research Board of Canada Laboratory.

In 1966 he joined the Department of Biochemistry at the University of British Columbia, where he continued to work as professor of biochemistry and director of the Biotechnology Laboratory (see Biotechnology). In 1990, he became the founding scientific leader for the Protein Engineering Network of Centres of Excellence (PENCE). With his students and post-doctoral fellows, Smith made important contributions to many areas of research, ranging from hormonal control of development of salmon, to the enzymatic synthesis of polynucleotides, to the engineering of specific structural alterations in proteins. (See also Molecular Biology.)

Nobel Prize

Michael Smith is perhaps best known for the development of systems for editing genetic DNA sequences using site-directed mutagenesis methods (see genetic engineering). For this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 (see Nobel Prizes and Canada). Smith shared the prize with the American biochemist, Kary B. Mullis.


Michael Smith used his Nobel prize money ($500,000) to advance the cause of scientific research in Canada. Smith dedicated the prize money to specific projects such as the advancement of women in scientific careers, research in schizophrenia, and a program at the Vancouver-based science museum, Science World.

In recognition of his career and contributions to science, several agencies and research centres bear Smith’s name.

Select Honours and Awards

Further Reading

External Links