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An argument leads to a grant from the National Institutes of Health


Work with Rosalind Franklin
Aaron Klug Scientist
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She introduced me to the study of viruses and I admired the great skill with which she... got the specimens. And she wanted me to calculate, she knew I... she thought I... she knew actually I knew some mathematics, that came later. But she showed me a picture of the layer lines, which looked curved layer lines. And these were curved in a way that wasn't just due to misorientation of the specimen. So I worked out... I figured it out and we published the paper in '54, or was it '55 on the splitting of layer lines in Tobacco Mosaic Virus because I realised this was because the screw of the helix of Tobacco Mosaic Virus wasn't three turns and 69 angstroms; but 3.02.

[Q] Yes.

And you could then calculate and you could explain all that.

[Q] It was split rather than curved.

Yes, they were split but then they... again, they were the Bessel functions on the... originally if it had been exact rational number; so I realised it was a non-integral number. And I think, you see, Bernal, still belonged to the old tradition where it had to be... you had to have integers. It's what threw... It's what threw... you know, the very famous fiasco... it's a related subject, where Perutz, Kendrew and Bragg tried to build chains of polypeptides.

[Q] Yes.

And they only used integer helices.

[Q] Yes.

Because that's what you had in the crystal, and that's interesting; that came from Bernal. Bernal, I used... Bernal used to come and ask me...

[Q] Yes.

And you may remember this... 'Why isn't it a three-fold screw axis?' And I used to tell him laboriously, 'Because if you look on the meridian you see there's a dip in the middle.' And you could see that on the... in the early pictures, but the old generation. So anyway, so I interpreted this; so, after that I began working with Rosalind... Franklin. And that was about then, so by that time, and we were publishing papers and she had done... And so she got some money from various people. Her work was being financed by the British Coal Producers' Association because she worked on graphite. But the X-ray tubes were all paid for, and on the side she was doing the Tobacco Mosaic Virus work. You see, Bernal's lab was full of people doing all sorts of odd things, you might call applied crystallography, and he spent time getting money from all of these things. Once the apparatus was in the lab we could use it on other projects. So in the early days Rosalind's work was...

[Q] She had a grant from the Agricultural...

Then she got a grant from the Agricultural Research Council to work on Tobacco Mosaic Virus. And when she got that grant she could hire assistance or PhD students, and so two people turned up John Finch and Kenneth Holmes.

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: Agricultural Research Council, Rosalind Franklin

Duration: 3 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008