Nobel laureate Oliver Smithies has died, according to the New York Times. He was 91.
Smithies, who was at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, won the Nobel Prize in 2007 along with the University of Utah's Mario Capecchi and Martin Evans from Cardiff University for their work developing knockout mice, which have become a lab staple for studying conditions ranging from atherosclerosis to cancer and cystic fibrosis.
In particular, the Times notes that Smithies' Nobel work started with him trying to insert genetic material from normal cells to repair cells with sickle cell disease. After Smithies eventually was able to insert that material, Capecchi found that genes could not only be repaired, but also silenced, and then Smithies and Capecchi both found that making these changes to embryonic stem cells could allow researchers to breed mice with certain diseases. For his part, Evans discovered embryonic stem cells in mice.
Smithies was also known as a bit of a tinkerer, the Times adds, as he liked to use everyday objects in his work — he devised a cheaper way of separating proteins using a potato starch-based jelly, now known as gel electrophoresis.
"You use whatever is lying around, and you see something that needs to be done, and you try to do it," he once said. "I think it is making things work, you know, somehow."