Life and career
Lerman was born and raised in Pittsburgh, the son of Freamah and Meyer Lerman, Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a department store buyer. Lerman began attending the Carnegie Institute of Technology before graduating from high school and received his BS in five semesters. As a graduate student with Linus Pauling at the California Institute of Technology, Lerman discovered that antibodies have two binding sites. Later, perhaps his most important discovery was that certain molecules bind to DNA by intercalation. This discovery has shaped much of science's understanding about how drugs and mutagens interact with DNA.
Lerman led a productive research program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and SUNY Albany, the State University of New York at Albany. Lerman's lab crew included at least one Nobel prize winner, Sidney Altman, and another, Tom Maniatis, who also became one of the leading molecular biologists of his time.
Lerman's last major effort, begun with Stuart Fischer at SUNY, was the invention of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), a technique used to separate DNA molecules. DGGE is widely used by scientists who wish to ascertain biodiversity in microbial communities.
- Leonard Lerman, a Pioneer in DNA Study, Is Dead at 87 The New York Times, September 29, 2012
- Lerman L. S. “Structural considerations in the interactions of deoxyribonucleic acid and acridines” Journal of Molecular Biolology 1961, 3, 18-30.
- Luzzati V., Masson F., Lerman L. S. “Interaction of DNA and proflavine: a small-angle x-ray scattering study” J. Mol. Biol. 1961, 3, 634-639.
- Lerman L. S. “The structure of the DNA-acridine complex” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 1963, 49, 94-102.
- Fischer S. G. and Lerman L. S. "Length-independent separation of DNA restriction fragments in two-dimensional gel electrophoresis" Cell, 1979, Jan;16(1), 191-200.
- Fischer S. G. and Lerman L. S. "Separation of random fragments of DNA according to properties of their sequences" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 1980, 77, 4420-4424.
- Fischer S. G. and Lerman L. S. "DNA fragments differing by single base-pair substitutions are separated in denaturing gradient gels: Correspondence with melting theory" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 1983, 80, 1579-1583.
- To view scientific papers by Dr. Lerman, go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi. Set the search box to "pubmed" and enter "Lerman LS" in the term box (no quotes in either). This should pull up a list of 50-some scientific publications with Dr. Lerman as author, including articles with Altman and Maniatis.
- Sidney Altman's Nobel Prize Autobiography with a description of the time he spent working with Leonard Lerman in Colorado