August: Frederick Sanger (1918-2003)
Who is Frederick Sanger?
Frederick was a British biochemist, born in 1918 in Gloucestershire. He was the son of a medical practitioner and he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he had a much keener interest in being a scientist. After initially studying chemistry and physics, he became interested in biochemistry. He worked in research laboratories with many other biochemists and his main focus was protein structures.
What did he discover?
Sanger’s first focus was the structure of insulin. Using separation techniques, such as partition chromatography, he managed to prove that insulin consisted of two types of amino acid chains. He conducted many different experiments, and separation techniques, on the insulin until he eventually deduced the complete structure of the protein. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1958 for being the first person to ever sequence a protein. He went on to use his techniques and his new knowledge to map the sequences of the active sites of many different enzymes.
Sanger then used his knowledge of proteins and enzymes to study DNA molecules. He and his colleague Alan R. Coulson developed a new way of sequencing DNA called the ‘plus and minus method’. Using this method, they synthesised new DNA from single strand templates, this allowed them to further understand DNA sequencing. With this newfound knowledge they were able to deduce the DNA sequence for a bacteriophage, which was the first full genome to be sequenced. Sanger then went on to perfect the method and came up with a new method called the ‘dideoxy method’ which allowed him to sequence human mitochondrial DNA. For his efforts in DNA sequencing, Frederick Sanger shared his second Nobel Prize for Chemistry with his team in 1980.
Why is he our scientist of the month?
Despite being a double Nobel Prize winner and making incredible breakthroughs throughout his career, Frederick Sanger is not a household name. When the majority of people think of DNA research they think of Watson and Crick who were credited for the discovery of DNA. It is important to celebrate a variety of great minds and their contributions to science. Sanger had a very great mind indeed, and because of him scientists have a much better understanding of biochemistry and the genetic code!
This month’s starter question…
Why is it important to understand the structure of DNA?
Written by Abigail Lawrence, Pearson Science's Qualifications Product Developer
Some information is sourced from Encyclopedia Britannica.