The scientist who discovered that DNA carries the genetic Code of Life will be honored today with a Michigan Historical Marker at his birthplace in Owosso, Michigan.
Dr. Alfred Day Hershey won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for his pioneering work. The marker will be unveiled at his birthplace in 1908 at 515 E. Mason Street in Owosso at 2 p.m. The effort to honor Hershey was fueled and financed by more than a dozen state and federal legislators, current and former, along with Owosso historian Shaffer Fox.
Hershey was born in Owosso on Dec. 4, 1908. He lived his first four years in Owosso, then moved with his family to Lansing, where he graduated from the old Lansing Central High School before attending Michigan State College of Agriculture & Applied Science (now MSU), where he received a B.S. degree in bacteriology and a PhD. in chemistry. Following graduation, Hershey served on the faculty and as a researcher (1934-1950) at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and later as a researcher (1950-1972) and Director of the Genetics Research Unit (1962-1972) at the Carnegie Institution’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York.
In 1952, Hershey and his lab assistant discovered, demonstrated, proved and confirmed that DNA carries the genetic Code of Life. Lauded as one of the greatest discoveries of the modern age, it serves as a foundation for advances in over 100 branches of biology, medicine and anthropology.
Hershey made additional discoveries, including the growth stages of viruses, spontaneous mutations in viruses, viral hybridization, the chemical later identified as messenger RNA, the genetic volume of viruses, how to weigh DNA, how to accurately divide and break DNA, and that some DNA is single-stranded and some circularized.
For his achievements, Hershey, already a PhD., was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Chicago (1967), and an Honorary Doctor of Medical Science by Michigan State University (1970). Additionally, Hershey was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1958), was co-winner of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Science Award (1958), was winner of the Kimber Genetics Award (1965), and in 1969 was co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for “discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.”
In 2018, Owosso historian Fox, with financial support from current state Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) and former state legislator William S. (Bill) Ballenger, produced a 212-page application for a Michigan Historical Marker to honor Hershey. It was approved by the State of Michigan. This was a full half-century after Hershey had been honored with a House Concurrent Resolution (#277) passed unanimously by the Michigan Legislature back in 1969.
Other former state and federal lawmakers who supported the project, financially and otherwise, include ex-state Representatives Richard J. Ball, Ben Glardon, Clark Harder, Larry Julian, Francis R. “Bus” Spaniola and ex-state Senators Alan Cropsey, Joe Hune, and Rick Jones. Also contributing were current U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, state Senator Tom Barrett, former Congressman Dave Camp, and former Attorney General Bill Schuette. All represented Owosso and all or part of Shiawassee County at some point in their tenures in public office. Owosso native daughter Virginia Lee (Bunny) Woodard Matthews and her husband, Terry, of Binghamton, New York, also supported the enterprise.