Michael Smith was a biochemist who, in 1993, won the Nobel prize for chemistry. He was born in Blackpool. His father was Rowland Smith, a market gardener, and his mother was Mary Agnes née Armstead, a book-keeper. He attended Manchester University, where he studied chemistry at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, gaining his PhD in 1956. He then undertook post-doctoral studies in Gobind Khorana’s laboratory in Vancouver, Canada. Khorana himself won a Nobel prize in 1968 for his work on the genetic code. Smith later moved with Khorana’s group to Wisconsin, USA, in 1960, but a year later went back to Vancouver.
From 1961 to 1966 he worked at the Fisheries Research Board of Canada Laboratory in Vancouver. In 1966 he was appointed as a professor of biochemistry in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he stayed for the remainder of his career. At UBC he was founding director of the biotechnology laboratory from 1987 to 1995 and the founding scientific leader of the Protein Engineering Network Centers of Excellence. In 1996 he was named Peter Wall distinguished professor of biotechnology and he subsequently became the founding director of the Genome Sequencing Center at the BC Cancer Research Agency.
In 1993, Michael Smith received the Nobel prize for his development of the technique of site-directed mutagenesis, a technique which allows the DNA sequence of any gene to be altered in a designated manner. He donated half of the Nobel prize money to researchers working on the genetics of schizophrenia, and the other half he gave to Science World BC and to the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. The Royal Bank Award, which he received in 1999, included a companion grant which he donated to the BC Cancer Foundation.
He held visiting professorships at Rockefeller University, Yale, Cambridge and the University of Washington.
In 1994 Michael Smith was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. After his death, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research was founded and named after him and, in 2004, the UBC biotechnology laboratories were renamed in his honour. At his old university, Manchester, a new biological sciences research centre was named the Michael Smith Building.
He married Helen in 1960 and they had three children – Tom, Ian and Wendy. He and his wife separated in 1983.