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Scientist Spotlight: Frederick Sanger

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Lisa Winter

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147 Scientist Spotlight: Frederick Sanger

Yesterday it was announced that Nobel laureate Dr. Frederick Sanger has passed away at the age of 95.

Frederick Sanger was born August 13, 1918 in Gloucestershire, England. He was awarded his Ph.D. in 1943 at the University of Cambridge, where he also received his undergraduate degree. He began working with bovine insulin to determine the structure of the protein. In 1951 and 1952, he was able to determine the polypeptide sequence. This led to his conclusion that if insulin has a set sequence, other proteins must have a unique amino acid sequence as well. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1958 for this discovery.


Later he turned his efforts toward sequencing nucleic acids in DNA and RNA. While developing a means of producing RNA to study, he discovered the amino acid that initiates RNA production in bacteria. Unfortunately, a different group had also made the same discovery and published their results first. Three of those researchers (Robert Holley, Har Gobind Khorana, and Marshall Warren Nirenberg) were awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1968. After shifting directions again, Sanger developed a method to quickly sequence DNA. This technique was so successful, he was awarded the Nobel Prize again in 1980.

Frederick Sanger is part of a very exclusive group of only four scientists to have received the Nobel Prize twice. The others were Marie Skłodowska-Curie (1903 & 1911), Linus Pauling (1954 & 1962), and John Bardeen (1956 & 1972). Sanger is the only person who has been awarded two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.

Though he retired in 1983, Sanger spent the last years of his life spending time with his family and “messing about in boats.”

He passed away in Cambridge, England on November 20, 2013. 


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