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The Story of Taq and Thomas Brock’s Thermophiles

Convention used to suggest that enzymatic activity would decrease with an increase in temperature. Imagine Thomas Brock’s surprise in 1969, when he found bacteria thriving in the near boiling waters of Yellowstone’s geyser pools. Named Thermus aquaticus, these bacteria can survive temperatures between 50°C and 80°C. Various enzymes were isolated and studied from this organism, but none as significant as Thermus aquaticus DNA polymerase, better known as Taq polymerase. The ability of Taq polymerase to survive the high temperatures required to denature DNA during PCR, meant that researchers, or rather their students, could perform PCR without having to add fresh polymerase each cycle. Brock’s discovery enabled PCR to become an indispensable tool in genetics and diagnostics, and liberated molecular biology students everywhere from the burden of babysitting PCR reactions.

Author: Mehrdad Zarifkar is a Production Scientist at IDT.