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The Bijvoet effect


Insulin and heavy atoms
Dorothy Hodgkin Scientist
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The quite interesting thing is of course that Max tried all sorts of ideas for phasing, produced by Bernal and so on, and then suddenly got... saw from some work that was reduced into brief print that the... it was possible to attach a heavy atom like para-chlorobenzoic acid and so he always rather sort of felt as if he discovered the use of heavy atoms in the whole of the protein work. But actually I mean, he established it which was marvellous, I mean he showed that it worked but Bernal had suggested that it would work for insulin. The moment I got the first insulin photograph in a little letter of which I put the text at least in his life time.

[Q] Yes.  And he was suggesting the replacement of zinc I think by cadmium?

Yes. It was known to happen you see.

[Q] And you did some early experiments on that?

Yes. The trouble with the first cadmium... insulin that I had, which is mentioned in that letter... but it was clearly very impure and it wouldn't grow large crystals at all. I tried taking powder photographs which weren't really good enough for testing.


British pioneer of X-ray crystallography, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), is best known for her ground-breaking discovery of the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12. At age 18, she started studying chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, then one of the University of Oxford colleges for women only. She also studied at the University of Cambridge under John Desmond Bernal, where she became aware of the potential of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins. Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl Oughton, she was one of the first people in April 1953 to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson. She was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is also known for her peace work with organisations such as Science for Peace and the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam. All recorded material copyright of The Biochemical Society.

Listeners: Guy Dodson

Guy Dodson studied chemistry and physical science at the University of New Zealand, followed by a PhD on the crystallographic study of an alkaloid. In 1961, he came to Oxford to work on the crystal structure of insulin. In the mid 1970s Guy and his wife moved to York University to establish a laboratory. In addition to insulin studies the laboratory has investigated many complex molecules of medical significance, including haemoglobin, myoglobin, HIV related proteins, proteases and proteins involved in managing nucleic acids in cells. In 1993, he went to the NIMR in London to establish a crystallographic group in an environment that spanned molecular, physiological and disease-related disciplines. Here his research began on some cell signalling proteins. His interests on medically relevant proteins included prions, malarial and TB proteins, and some clinically relevant thrombin inhibitors. Guy Dodson retired in 2004 but is still finding much to do in York and the NIMR.

Tags: JD Bernal

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: 1990

Date story went live: 02 June 2008