Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nobel Laureate: Fred Sanger


The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1958.

"for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin"

Frederick Sanger (1918 - ) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing techniques to sequence proteins and for determining the amino acid sequence of insulin. This was Sanger's first Nobel Prize. The second was for developing the chain termination method of DNA sequencing.

From today's perspective it's difficult to appreciate the importance of Sanger's work on protein sequencing. His work confirmed that the functions of proteins depended on the sequence of amino acid residues in a polypeptide chain and it confirmed that every molecule of a protein had the same amino acid sequence. Recall that in 1958 the relationship between the nucleotide sequence of a gene and the amino acid sequence of a protein was still being worked out and the genetic code had not been discovered.

Sanger's work led to the widespread use of sequencing technology which, in turn, led to the discovery of differences between species. It wasn't long before phylogenetic trees based on amino acid sequences were being published.

Some Nobel Prizes are given for quick discoveries but this isn't one of those. Sanger worked on his project for ten years making only small advances each year. The presentation speech specifically mentions this.
Nobel Laureates
Doctor Frederick Sanger. It sometimes happens that an important scientific discovery is made so to say "overnight" - if the time is ripe and the necessary background is there. Yours is not of that kind. The first successful determination of the structure of a protein is the result of many years of persistent and zealous work, in which the final solution of the problem has been approached step by step. You knew when you began to look into the structure of the insulin molecule 15 years ago that the problem was a formidable one. So did the whole scientific world. Those who knew you, were confident, however, that you would ultimately succeed, and each successive publication from your laboratory strengthened our confidence. Intelligence, knowledge and skill in the mastering of the methods required - we know you have them all - but in such a venture these are not enough. Without your wholehearted devotion to the task you had set before you, many obstacles on your way would have appeared insurmountable. Now that many years of work have been crowned with success you may look back and rejoice. You can also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the roads you have broken and paved being used by many in their search for the building principles of the key substances of Life. However, very likely you are more apt to look ahead. It was Alfred Nobel's intention that his prizes should not only be considered as awards for achievements done but that they should also serve as encouragement for future work. We are confident that you are a worthy recipient of the Nobel award also in this sense.

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1 comment :

  1. I know he is a unique person, but I'm working really hard to be as good researcher as he is!!