Margarita Salas

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The creator of the most profitable patent in Spain

Margarita Salas is a biochemist and a molecular biologist, born in Asturias in 1938.

She had the great fortune to have parents that always gave the same training opportunities to all their children, regardless of their gender. It was during her PhD at the Complutense University of Madrid, when for the first time she felt discriminated against, for it was thought that women weren't good at research. In fact, to be admitted as a PhD candidate a letter of recommendation was necessary from Severo Ochoa, a friend of the family. Who was going to refuse the request of a Nobel Prize winner, however far-fetched?

Severo Ochoa invited her to work in his laboratory in New York. Back in Spain in 1967, Salas chose to study the mechanisms for replication or reproduction of the Phi29 virus. This virus is simple, as it has only 20 genes but, at the same time, it is complex enough to provide interesting findings.

Without expecting any practical applications, it occurred to her to infect a bacteria with this virus, which led her to the discovery of the protein DNA polymerase, in charge of producing copies of genetic material. The chemical patent of this protein has been the most profitable in the history of Spain, since it has generated more than 6 million euro.

Her research helped Kary B. Mullis, Nobel prize of Chemistry in 1983, to design the wellknown PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), a reaction that allows you to produce millions of copies of any fragment of DNA. This technique is essential for geneticists, biologists, researchers, archaeologists, forensic experts and police, who work every day with samples of DNA and do not have the required amount.

Margarita Salas is an example of rigor and commitment to scientific research and is still active today. She works at the Center of Molecular Biology Severo Ochoa CSIC as a Professor Ad Honorem and encourages the work of numerous women scientists. She has received numerous awards and distinctions, among them the L'oreal-UNESCO awards, the Mendel Medal, Rey Jaime I Award, the National Award of ‘Ramón y Cajal' or the Echegaray Medal.

«Women are not going to make it; they are already there. I do not believe in positive discrimination in favor of women; I do not want it»