Frederick Sanger 1918 – 2013

When Fred Sanger retired in 1983, having just won three years previous a second Noble Peace Prize in chemistry, his first being in 1958, it was not the pursuit of fame, recognition or fortune that drove him on but the work, and the sheer pleasure.

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Sanger was awarded his first Nobel Prize in 1958 for work carried out with colleagues in the early 1950s. Toiling away in a small hutlike laboratory buried in Cambridge University’s department of biotechnology , Sanger deduced the sequence of amino acids (chemical building blocks) in the hormone insulin, the first complete protein sequence ever to be determined.

His second Nobel, in 1980, was awarded for related work carried out at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, where he developed an ingenious method of working out the basic chemical “grammar” of DNA that has enabled scientists to “read” the chemical sequencing — the long chains of DNA molecules — that form our genes. The technique he developed, known as “Sanger” sequencing, was still used decades later. [Daily Telegraph]

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Only four people in history have been awarded the Nobel Prize twice.

Venki Ramakrishnan, deputy director of the Laboratory for Molecular Biology, said: “Fred was one of the outstanding scientists of the last century and it is simply impossible to overestimate the impact he has had on modern genetics and molecular biology. Moreover, by his modest manner and his quiet and determined way of carrying out experiments himself right to the end of his career, he was a superb role model and inspiration for young scientists everywhere.”

Prof Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “Fred was an inspiration to many, for his brilliant work, for his quiet determination and for his modesty. He was a outstanding investigator, with a dogged determination to solve questions that have led to transformations in how we perceive our world. “

He combined this with a drive to interest young people in science. He refused most invitations for interviews, but often helped schools and students. [Cambridge News]

For Sanger, science promised the undiscovered country for any would be adventurer of the mind.

It is like a voyage of discovery into unknown lands, seeking not for new territory but for new knowledge. It should appeal to those with a good sense of adventure.

So long Fred, pioneer of DNA sequencing.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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