Kary Banks Mullis, Nobel Prize winning chemist, was born on December 28, 1944, in Lenoir, North Carolina.

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1966. He earned a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972 and lectured in biochemistry there until 1973. That year, Kary became a postdoctoral fellow in pediatric cardiology at the University of Kansas Medical School, with emphasis in the areas of angiotensin and pulmonary vascular physiology. In 1977 he began two years of postdoctoral work in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Kary joined the Cetus Corporation in Emeryville, California, as a DNA chemist in 1979. During his seven years there, he conducted research on oligonucleotide synthesis and invented the polymerase chain reaction.

In 1986, he was named director of molecular biology at Xytronyx, Inc. in San Diego, where his work was concentrated in DNA technology and photochemistry. In 1987 began consulting on nucleic acid chemistry for more than a dozen corporations, including Angenics, Cytometrics, Eastman Kodak, Abbott Labs, Milligen / Biosearch, and Specialty Laboratories.

Making Rockets

"Not long ago I decided to try my hand at building rockets. I used homemade gunpowder in my missiles."

At first Mother wasn't wholly in favor of it, but after considerable thought, she consented ("consented" was crossed out and replaced with "was definitely opposed.")

My first models were rather crude and most of them just fizzled, but after many experiments and much thought, I came upon a nice, little rocket engine that builds up enough thrust to move itself. At night, if a small firecracker is inserted into the back of my rockets, the resulting explosion throws molten sulfur out into the air. This is the brilliant climax to the little rocket's trip."

From "Fourteen Years of Kary" 1958

Kary received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The process, which Kary conceptualized in 1983, is hailed as one of the monumental scientific techniques of the twentieth century.

A method of amplifying DNA, PCR multiplies a single, microscopic strand of the genetic material billions of times within hours. The process has multiple applications in medicine, genetics, biotechnology, and forensics. PCR, because of its ability to extract DNA from fossils, is in reality the basis of a new scientific discipline, paleobiology.

Kary has authored several major patents. His patented inventions include the PCR technology and UV-sensitive plastic that changes color in response to light. His most recent patent application covers a revolutionary approach to instantly mobilize the immune system to neutralize invading pathogens and toxins, leading to the formation of his latest venture, Altermune LLC. Altermune is currently focusing on Influenza A and drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Kary was awarded the Japan Prize in 1993 for the PCR invention. It is one of international science's most prestigious awards.

Kary has written an autobiographical book titled Dancing Naked in the Mind Field published by Pantheon Books in 1998.

He is currently a Distinguished Researcher at Children's Hospital and Research Institute at Oakland.

Kary serves on the board of scientific advisors of several companies, provides expert advice in legal matters involving DNA, and is a frequent lecturer at college campuses, corporations and academic meetings around the world.

He lives with his wife, Nancy Cosgrove Mullis, in Corona del Mar, California and in Anderson Valley, California.

Awards and Honors


  • William Allan Memorial Award of the American Society of Human Genetics
  • Preis Biochemische Analytik of the German Society of Clinical Chemistry and Boehringer Mannheim


  • National Biotechnology Award
  • Gairdner Award
  • R & D Scientist of the Year


  • California Scientist of the Year Award


  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  • Japan Prize
  • Thomas A. Edison Award


  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of South Carolina



  • Honorary degree in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology from the University of Bologna, Italy

U.S. Patent

Process for Amplifying Nucleic Acids

US 4,683,202 - July 28, 1987
K. Mullis

Process for Amplifying, Detecting, and/or Cloning Nucleic Acid Sequences

US 4,683,195 - July 28, 1987
K. Mullis, H. Erlich, N. Arnheim, G. Horn, R. Saiki and S. Scharf

Process for Amplifying, Detecting, and/or Cloning Nucleic Acid Sequences Using a Thermostable Enzyme

US 4,800,159 - January 24, 1989
K. Mullis, H. Erlich, N. Arnheim, G. Horn, R. Saiki and S. Scharf

System for the Visualization of Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation

US 5,028,792 - July 2, 1991
K. Mullis

Rapid Purification of DNA

US 5,187,083 - February 16, 1993
K. Mullis

Apparatus and Method for Performing Auto- mated Amplification of Nucleic Acid Sequences and Assays Using Heating and Cooling Steps

US 5,333,675 - August 2, 1994
K. Mullis, L. Johnson, R. Leath, T. Wennberg, L. Mezei and J. Widunas

System for Automated Performance of the Polymerase Chain Reaction

US 5,656,493 - August 12, 1997
K. Mullis, L. Johnson, R. Leath, T. Wennberg, L. Mezei and J. Widunas

Systems for the Visualization of Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation

US 5,436,115 - July 25, 1995
K. Mullis

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