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Frederick Sanger, Genomics Pioneer, Dies At 95

Winner of two chemistry Nobels developed methods to sequence proteins and DNA strands

by Puneet Kollipara
November 22, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 47

Credit: AP
Sanger in 1958, after he was awarded his first Nobel Prize.
Credit: AP
Sanger in 1958, after he was awarded his first Nobel Prize.

Frederick Sanger, a British biochemist who twice won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and whose methods to sequence proteins and DNA strands helped spawn a genomics and biomedical revolution, died on Nov. 19. He was 95.

His death was announced by the University of Cambridge’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which Sanger helped found.

Sanger won his first Nobel Prize in 1958 at age 40 for his work on protein structure, particularly that of insulin. By studying the chemical properties of insulin fragments, he was able to piece together the order of the molecule’s 51 amino acids, making insulin the first protein to be sequenced.

Then, in the late 1970s, Sanger developed a method to sequence DNA strands containing hundreds of base pairs. He won his second Nobel Prize in 1980 for his contributions to nucleic acid sequencing, becoming one of just four individuals in history to win two of the prizes. The Sanger sequencing method, later adapted for computer automation, saw heavy use in the Human Genome Project to sequence DNA.

Sanger graduated from Cambridge in 1939 with a major in biochemistry and completed his doctoral work there as well. He was named a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954, Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1963, and member of the Order of Merit in 1986.



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Robert Chambers (November 26, 2013 2:31 PM)
As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley I heard Dr. Sanger lecture on the method he was developing for sequencing proteins. I had been told by my professors that it was impossible to sequence a protein. I can't tell you how excited I was by that lecture.
Later, I got to know Fred, and we had many lively discussions. When I presented the sequence of an alanine tRNA at an International Congress, he congratulated me and told me that I had just made a lot of enemies (that was the second tRNA to be sequenced. Holley sequenced the first).

Fred was a wonderful person and his contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology are astonishing.

Bob Chambers
formerly Carneigie and Rockefeller Professor of Biochemistry
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia
David Ballou (November 26, 2013 3:17 PM)
Sanger was an amazing scientist. We can note that he does not have several hundred publications, but his were of exceptional value to the science community. He did not have a team of 20-30 students and postdoctoral fellows working as a factory. He did small science in a large way. Thank you Professor Sanger.

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