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The citation for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1982


'It was the time for chromatin'
Aaron Klug Scientist
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I gave up further work on tRNA, Brian Clark had moved, had gone to Aarhus, so we had done protein synthesis in the laboratory was being wound down anyway by... by Crick and Brenner.

[Q] It was the time for chromatin...

So I turned to chromatin.

[Q] Yes.

And I'd come to chromatin only because of the time to start, but I was, when I wrote a report to say one of our, you know, at the MRC we get examined every five years and I wrote in our division report that the work had stopped on tRNA was heavily criticised by one of the referees and by the visiting committee. They were saying, why did you do this, the first discoveries of the structure of tRNA and a lot of things to be found out, the interactions of tRNA with EFTU, other molecules. And I said, 'Well, we stopped something and we want to do something else and it was chromatin.' So I judged the chromatin to be much more of a mystery.

[Q] Yes.

And so what happened was that when Roger Kornberg wanted to come to the lab as a Post Doc, he was the son of Arthur Kornberg, the greatest biochemist of the day, and he said, 'I'd like to work on a... something messy, starting at the beginning'. And I said, 'Well, I've got a messy problem for you – chromatin, where the chemistry is not well understood.' And that was... that was Roger Kornberg. Yeah. So... so... And we moved on, the pointers I'd learnt which some people don't learn that sometimes you have to deny yourself the luxury of doing something, not following what you're capable of doing but to try to work on interesting and hopefully important problems, which I think... I think I learned that from Francis Crick. And I think, looking back on it, I was very lucky to be there because I learnt... from Crick as he once wrote about Bragg. He wrote in his thesis that he was fortunate to have learnt from [Lawrence] Bragg how to go about a problem. Well, I learnt, I read that in Francis Crick's thesis and I also learnt from him, well... by watching him, how he thought, in fact. He would always write out notes, he'd write down a whole, he was very systematic, he would write down a whole lot of notes about how to approach a problem. He wrote down... when he and [James] Watson worked on DNA, to return to an old historical thing. He wrote down helical diffraction three for bird watchers because Watson was only a bird watcher and didn't understand this. So I think, it was pretty important, Crick... So he was... we didn't publish much together but he was a... he was an influence. And then the lab as a whole meant, and I think I have to get this into the story, the lab as a whole was such a representation of techniques and when we worked on RNA and later on we were able to learn from people like Fred Sanger. When we worked on chromatin we had to go and... so I'm now speaking more generally, we had to start using nuclei, micro nuclease, DNAs 1 and so on; we learnt that from Fred Sanger.

[Q] Yes.

And not only that he actually gave us some materials; we didn't have to go through the business of ordering it and knowing what to order. So it's really... so the laboratory, and it's a tribute to the MRC, which I must get into this talk that they actually favoured such conditions where you had an institute rather, where workers were perhaps in different departments but under one roof and you could benefit even if only occasionally from the presence of the others.

[Q] A variety of know-how...

A variety of know-how, yes... you could always go down and ask, well, you could always read papers, but there's nothing like knowing you're getting some know-how, yes.

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: John Finch Ken Holmes

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.

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.

Tags: Lawrence Bragg, Roger Kornberg, Arthur Kornberg, Francis Crick, James Watson, Fred Sanger

Duration: 4 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008