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The first official use of Molecular Biology


Purifying tRNA (Part 2)
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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And so you have to say, 'Well, you know the diversity is so large in the living world, and since everything is connected in some way, then let's find the best one', and I can remember that we thought… we said, you know, 'Somewhere there must exist a bacterium'. This bacterium has 28% of its protein is one single protein. The molecular weight of this protein is 16,000, okay. This protein can be… it crystallises when you bubble carbon dioxide through the extract. This bacterium also has all the capacities to do genetics at high resolution, so we said, 'Well you know, maybe we should go and look for this thing'. But I think it's important, and I did a lot of that as well. For example I found a… we found… I found by sheer chance, and I got someone to work on this; I read in a paper somewhere that you could induce cytochrome c in certain bacteria. We knew cytochrome c was small, so I got hold of these bacteria. It's very remarkable. If you put them under anaerobic conditions and you give them… you give them nitrate as the electron acceptor, they go bright red; that's cytochrome c. I managed to persuade a young man over in Fred Sanger's department, Richard Ambler, to actually extract the cytochrome c. During the course of this he found another protein called azurin, which is a copper protein on which he did his thesis with Fred. But that's… those strains of pseudomonas at that time didn't have genetics, they didn't have… we didn't know whether we could get mutants of them, and so that was set on one side. However, the whole idea of exploring things that you do – that I think is very important and I've always made sure that I follow the literature and see all these rather… things which don't look the usual thing, especially in the microbiological literature because there could be something of interest there. Another thing that we did later with a heterocyst pattern in the blue-green algae. That came again of saying, 'Well, we want to study the genetics of pattern formation; why don't we go and look for… instead of three-dimensional or two-dimensional, let's look for a one-dimensional pattern'. I think that was too early at the time. So we struggled on with this gene protein problem. People came and people went. And during this time… I mean, all these sidelines about structural work on bacteriophage, all the characterisation, negative staining, the mutagenesis was pursued and we had the capacity then to… to explore all of these things.

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: Frederick Sanger, Richard Ambler

Duration: 3 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008