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Father's work


Other interests: Cinema, music and my Desert Island Discs project
Aaron Klug Scientist
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I hardly read novels these days. I find that when I... see a new novel, I used to read Iris Murdoch and things like that, and at one point, when a new Iris Murdoch novel came out, I thought I couldn't stand this again, so I'd pick up an old novel and re-read it. And I've read Turgenev and Dostoevsky several times... not so much Tolstoy. Well, yes, Anna Karenina and things like that, so... but I must say, I also watch television quite a bit, and one of my cultural interests... when I was student, I used to go to the B... see B films in Johannesburg. There was a curious system, what they called 'tearoom bioscopes'. Bioscope is the old word for cinema, which comes from America and was imported to South Africa, and you could go into the bioscope and you sat... films were continuous which is something... there weren't fixed performances, and you came in at any time and you paid your... your fare was, you paid a shilling or something of that sort. You got a cup of tea or a drink, and then they took away that, and your saucer was your ticket, and the films went on. So there was... they used to have large diets of Westerns, very old-fashioned Westerns, they were of people almost forgotten now, Roy Rogers and people like that, and I, I used to like those, because they were sort of a light relief from things. And they were very simple. They had... the heroes were in white, the villains were in black, and everybody knew what was what, and you knew what was going to happen in the end. The good guy would win, and would win the girl, but in those days, they didn't kiss the girl. It was... very moral.

But since then I watch more sophisticated Westerns, including the work of John Ford, so I do quite enjoy the cinema, and also we used to go to... when we lived in London, we used to go to plays, not so much music. My wife is musical, we went to a few concerts, but I'm not musical at all, although I like hearing the... you know, the classics, so in my Desert Island Discs, I chose very obvious things, bits of Beethoven, Mozart, and then the lighter things, Gershwin, I didn't choose Jerome Kern but there could have been Jerome Kern and things like that. So I do have other interests, but my life has been basically dominated by, well, by science and the family. And all the other things have been a kind of bonus really, and I'm rather glad that things have worked out.

[Q] Can I ask a sort of 'Desert Island Discs' question? Can I ask you if there was one project you could take with you to a desert island? Which of the scientific projects would you have chosen?

A project? Going back?

[Q] Going back through all of them, which sort of stands out? Which is the highlight, which you've enjoyed most?

Which I've enjoyed most? I think it... I'm not sure, it's like... you know, it were how happy would I be with either fair charmer. What is that in? You know the... game... The Beggars Opera? In The Beggars Opera... How happy would I be with either fair charmer away? I'd be happy with the chromatin if I didn't know about the zinc finger. I'd be happy with the zinc finger if I didn't know about the chromatin. In their different ways, they have been... I suppose the... I suppose the zinc fingers have been in some ways the most satisfying because I really was lucky to stumble upon a most marvellous system which existed, and in which nobody had ever done anything before, so it was totally new, whereas the others I was both building upon what others have done, contributing to others, and so on. So I think the zinc fingers would have to be. And now, of course, it would have been... I would have been happy if it was just to know that you could use it as a research tool, but if it really does produce therapeutic benefits, well, that will be a sort of added bonus. So I think it has to be zinc fingers, and during the course of it, we've solved various puzzles like, you know, how to make six zinc fingers. That's a sort of a technical puzzle, and I've enjoyed doing that, and you know working out the... well, working out the equivalents, how many amino acids does it take to span one base? Turned out to be three, glycine, serine, glycine, for example. Little things on the way, which is you know, bits of research, so I enjoyed that. It wasn't obvious what it would be.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: Anna Karenina, The Beggars Opera, Desert Island Discs, Iris Murdoch

Duration: 5 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008