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Maxine Frank Singer (born February 15, 1931) is an American molecular biologist and science administrator. She is known for her contributions to solving the genetic code, her role in the ethical and regulatory debates on recombinant DNA techniques (including the organization of the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA), and her leadership of Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Singer was born in New York City. After attending public high school in Brooklyn, she majored in chemistry (and minored in biology) at Swarthmore College. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in 1957 at Yale University, researching protein chemistry under Joseph Fruton. Fruton encouraged her to specialize in nucleic acids, and in 1956 she joined the Laboratory of Biochemistry of Leon Heppel at the National Institutes of Health. Through her work there on RNA synthesis, Singer produced synthetic nucleotides that were used in Marshall Nirenberg's experiments establishing the triplet nature of the genetic code.

In the wake of the 1973 report of the first use of recombinant DNA techniques to introduce genes from one species into another, Singer was among the first to call attention to the possible risks of genetic engineering. She was a chairperson of the 1973 Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids, where the possible public health risks of the technique were discussed, and she helped to organize the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA that resulted in guidelines for dealing with the largely unknown risks of the technique.

In 1988 Singer became president of Carnegie Institution of Washington, a position she held until 2002.


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