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Growing bacteriophage in a Hoover washing machine


Fred Sanger on the structure of insulin
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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There's a club in Oxford called the Alembic Club which was for the discussion of chemistry, and I can remember – I think it must have been either late '53 or early '54 but certainly while I was at Oxford – of going to a lecture that was given by Fred Sanger and was on the structure of insulin, and he showed how he deduced the structure. I know he had a wonderful set of little blocks which he turned over to face the audience as he determined the little pieces of a structure, and the thing that struck me, because of course protein structure then was in a total impossible thing, and the thing that really impressed me was at the end of this lecture Sir Robert Robinson stood up and said the following. He said, 'Dr Sanger has made proteins part of chemistry. He's actually shown this remarkable fact that these things have a chemical structure in the form of their sequence of amino acids.' And until that time, you know, no one actually believed it. They all thought that they were polymers and things just joined together. There's something called the Bergmann-Niemann Hypothesis which said that things occurred with a frequency according to their abundance so they were repetitive structures, which of course you can't do very well because many things would come to occupy the same position so you can't have something that occurs every second position and another thing every third position, because what happens at position number six? You have a conflict. However, that was the state, and that I think was another signal achievement in pushing the subject on. But of course you see that again wasn't something that most people were doing, and Fred himself was always a fringe person in the biochemistry department here in Cambridge, and it's only when Fred left the biochemistry department and joined with us to go up the hill to make the Laboratory on Molecular Biology, but that'll come later.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: Oxford University, Alembic Club, Cambridge University, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Frederick Sanger, Robert Robinson

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008