13. 07. 15

Margarita Salas: researcher with the most profitable Spanish patent, the DNA polymerase

Margarita Salas was born in 1938 in a small village in Asturias, Spain. Upon graduating in Chemistry at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, Salas decided to devote herself to a scientific career.

Her decision was taken during a difficult time for research in Spain, especially for women. However, Salas did not give up her efforts to pursue her passion, and began her doctoral thesis under the direction of Alberto Sols.

In 1967, after successfully completing her doctorate, Margarita Salas immigrated to America, where she was a disciple of also Asturias-born Severo Ochoa, Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1959. Afterwards, she returned to Spain to continue her research.

: an invisible and powerful viral machine

In the late sixties, Margarita Salas started working on the study of bacteriophage phi29. This virus belongs to the family Podoviridae which infects some types of bacteria. But, why is it so important? Her research has revealed that phi29 only has 20 genes, a genetic machinery that could open up new possibilities in the field of molecular biology.

Thanks to the phi29 simple genome, DNA polymerase could be discovered, a protein involved in the amplification of the virus genes. Her research of Phi29 has permitted to understand how DNA Works, how its instructions become proteins and how proteins interface to generate a functional virus.

This enzyme was patented and licensed to Amersham Biosciences (later absorbed by GE Healthcare). Its importance has been key, as it is a good demonstration that science can be profitable, Salas associated with CSIC have the most productive patent in Spain to date. In fact, the CSIC has deposited around 4 million EUR for this invention, which represents almost 50 percent of royalty income.

Margarita Salas is undoubtedly one of the essential figures in the history of our science, her research has enabled remarkable advances in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology.

More than 40 years of knowledge and work has been instrumental to generations of scientists, driving Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Spain. Fact that demonstrates the great work Spanish researchers continuously made to be leading in research.


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