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Fred Sanger, double Nobel Laureate

Posted by on August 5, 2014

Rebecca Nesbit celebrates the life of Fred Sanger, a scientist featured in the Biology: Changing the World top ten poll.

As the only Briton to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes and the only scientist to have been awarded the prize for chemistry twice, Fred Sanger paved the way for huge advances in medical understanding .

As the First World War drew to an end, Sanger was born in Gloucestershire in 1918. As a child he developed an interest in biology from his father, a GP. Sanger changed his original plan to study medicine in favour of biochemistry, and completed his first degree in 1939 at Cambridge University. He was a conscientious objector during the war and was allowed to continue his research for his PhD.

He was the first person to obtain a protein sequence, which led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1958 “for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin”.

By revealing the structure of insulin, he made a vital step towards the production of synthetic human insulins for the treatment of diabetes. This work was extremely valuable in itself, and also fuelled him to follow his work leading towards a second Nobel Prize 22 years later. Having shown that proteins are ordered molecules, Sanger showed that DNA, which codes for proteins, should have an order or sequence as well.

Sanger shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1980 for his contribution to determining the way DNA sequences are made from nucleic acids. This work laid the foundations of our ability to understand the genetic code. Advances resulting from genome sequencing range from greater understanding of the origins of disease to a knowledge of how gene alternations can cause disease.

Biology: Changing the World is a heritage project of the Society, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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