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'It was the time for chromatin'


Creating modern structural molecular biology
Aaron Klug Scientist
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We used it to do metal binding to see how metals bound to nucleic acids, which we knew at the time. And I remember somebody in the lab objecting to all this, Peter Lawrence. Peter Lawrence was a gad fly in the laboratory, a very distinguished cell biologist. And he... he said, why... we gave a talk in the lab and said... 'Why do you, why are you doing this, why do we need to know this?' And I said, 'Well, metals are important biology, RNAs important, metal RNA interactions are important, this is an opportunity to follow this up and to see how they work'. He was the same as an... he was the same... was in the same year Fred Sanger talked about sequencing DNA, this is the same Peter Lawrence. And he got up and Fred was describing the methods for which he got his second Nobel Prize; Fred was describing these methods and afterwards with Peter... and said, again... again he said the same thing, this was some time later, 'Why do we need to know this; What will the sequence tell us?' It went on biological action. So after the session Francis Crick walked up to him, put his arm on his shoulder and he said, 'One day, dear boy, you'll have to know.' The sequence of DNA.

It's really... I tell this story because it gives back a kind of echo of what we were doing. In a way, if I can make a general comment, we were creating I think, some of us... some of us in... you and us... in the various other groups were creating modern structural molecular biology. But in order to do this you had to not just bring in the physical and chemical techniques but you had to steep yourself or really try to steep yourself in the biological and biochemical backgrounds, which not everybody did, I think. Well, Francis is the prime example of all this because he... he didn't even... hadn't done any biology or biochemistry when he started and he was purely a physics degree. I know I at least had done biochemistry and physiology, so I knew something about it.

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: Peter Lawrence, Fred Sanger, Francis Crick

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008