Unraveling Insulin


is the 81st birthday of Frederick Sanger, an English biochemist who was the first to take apart a protein molecule, chemically removing one amino acid at a time. Researchers had known since the turn of the century that proteins were chains of amino acids, but Sanger came up with a way to figure out their sequence. After 10 years of work, Sanger announced the complete structure of the insulin protein in 1955. Just 3 years later, he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his efforts.

Sanger went on to develop a sequencing technique for determining the structure of DNA molecules, also by chemically removing and identifying one nucleic acid at a time. That accomplishment earned him a second Nobel Prize in 1980, shared with Walter Gilbert and Paul Berg.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]