April 26, 1932

(Blackpool, England)


October 5, 2000


PhD, University of Manchester (1956)

Awards & Honours:

1999: BC Biotechnology Award for Innovation and Achievement

1995: Companion of the Order of Canada

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Picture of Michael Smith, PhD

Developed a technique to alter the genetic structure of proteins

Portrait of Michael Smith

One of the world’s leading molecular biologists

In the early days of the genetics revolution Michael Smith developed a critical technique that has become central to the field of genetic engineering known as site directed mutagenesis, the deliberate and predictable altering of the coding sequence of genes. His technique of manipulating DNA became a fundamental tool in biotechnology and facilitated the proliferation of genetic studies. This genetic research has found many applications and advanced many subfields of science and medicine. For his contributions, Michael Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Key Facts

Facilitated our understanding of the functional role of each building block of protein

Founded ZymoGenetics Inc, a biotechnology company

Spoke publicly about the misconceptions surrounding genetic engineering

Emphasized the importance of science and discovery to the health and daily lives of Canadians

Used his Nobel Prize money to establish an endowment to support genetic research on schizophrenia, science outreach and the advancement of women in science

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Today, Michael Smith’s innovation remains a standard technique in biotechnology and has significantly advanced the study of gene-related illnesses. In addition, his investment in science infrastructure continues to support cutting edge research in British Columbia through institutions such as the Michael Smith Laboratory and the Michael Smith Genome Centre. As a champion of scientific research to Canadian political and policy leaders, Smith’s legacy will continue to be felt across the country for many years to come.

Picture of Michael Smith, PhD


  • Following his death, the BC government created the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research

    The Foundation honours Smith’s legacy as a leading molecular biologist and supports innovative research in science.

  • Michael Smith inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    London, Ontario

  • For his fundamental contributions to developing site-directed mutagenesis and its substantial impact on science, Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    He accepted this award jointly with Dr. Kary B. Mullis.

  • Appointed by the newly founded National Network of Centres of Excellence in Protein Engineering as their Scientific Leader

    Smith brought together scientists from across Canada to work on solving important questions in protein structure-function analysis.

  • Invited by the Dean of Science at UBC to establish an interdisciplinary institute

    Smith became director of UBC’s new Biotechnology Laboratory.

  • Dr. Michael Smith focused his research on the human genome and on developing methods to sequence DNA molecules called oligonucleotides

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    He pioneered a critical technique known as site-directed mutagenesis, which involved the deliberate and predictable altering of the coding sequence of genes.

  • Accepted a position at the University of British Columbia

    He became a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and held an honorary professorship in the Department of Zoology.

  • Following his education, Smith managed the Chemistry Division of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada’s laboratory in Vancouver

    In this unique role, he conducted studies on the behavioural habits of salmon. Remaining grounded in his interest in biochemistry, Smith also conducted studies involving the synthesis and sequencing of nucleic acid.

  • Came to Canada to pursue further research

    During his postdoctoral work, he came under the influence of future Nobel laureate Dr. Har Gobind Khorana and developed an early passion for molecular biology and genetics.

  • Began his doctoral research at the University of Manchester under the supervision of H.B. Henbest

    The focus of his study was cyclohexane diols.


He developed a technique that became central to the field of genetic engineering.