Frederick Sanger Biography
Died At Age: 95
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Rendcomb
Famous as: Biochemist
Spouse/Ex-: Margaret Joan Howe
father: Frederick Sanger
siblings: Theodore Sanger
children: Peter Sanger, Robin Sanger, Sally Joan Sanger
place of death: Cambridge
education: St John's College, Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Bryanston School
awards: 1980; 1958 - Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1977 - Copley Medal
1979 - Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
1979 - Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
1979; 1971 - Gairdner Foundation International Award
Frederick Sanger was a British biochemist, well known for his groundbreaking research on aspects of biochemistry, which have influenced generations of research and progress in fields of biology and chemistry. He is the only Briton to have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry twice, also one of the only two people overall to have won the Nobel Prize in the same category. His research on the insulin molecule revolutionized the study of proteins and landed him the first of his two Nobel Prizes. After his first Nobel Prize, he started researching at the Medical Research Council (MRC) which housed better facilities to carry forward his research. Surrounding himself with the brightest minds and collaborators, he shifted his focus towards genome studies after meeting Francis Crick and other researchers studying DNA. He continued studying RNA and DNA sequencing and developed a technique for sequencing DNA that came to be known as the ‘Sanger Method’, which later on, got automated and computerized and ended up being used in the ‘Human Genome Project’. He received his second Nobel Prize jointly with Walter Gilbert. They were credited for their immense contributions in research regarding the base sequences found in nucleic acids. To know more about his life and works read on
- He was born to Cicely Sanger and Frederick Sanger, a general practitioner of medicine on 13th August, 1918 in Rendcomb, a small village in England. Theodore, the eldest was older than him by just one year, and May, his sister, was younger to him by five years.
- From the age of 5, Sanger received education from a governess. In 1927, he went to study at ‘Downs School’, a Quakers-run residential school.
- In 1932, he joined the ‘Bryanston School’ in Dorset run under the Dalton system of education. The Dalton system provided a much more liberal forum, and Sanger started developing an interest towards scientific studies.
- His father wanted him to practice medicine following in his footsteps, but he gravitated towards becoming a scientist. He initially concentrated towards chemistry and physics, but later got attracted to the comparatively new field of biochemistry.
- He lost both his parents to cancer during his years as an undergraduate in Cambridge.
- Sanger joined ‘St. John’s College’ at Cambridge to pursue undergraduate studies in natural sciences on 1936. At the beginning, he took courses on physics, chemistry, biochemistry and mathematics but on struggling with physics and mathematics, he took up physiology in place of physics.
- He started his PhD by researching if edible protein could be obtained from grass, but later on changed his thesis after Albert Neuberger became his thesis advisor. In 1943, Charles Harington and Albert Charles Chibnall awarded him with a doctorate after examining his thesis titled ‘The metabolism of the amino acid lysine in the animal body’.
- In 1943, he joined Albert Chibnall’s group, where the latter suggested he studied the insulin molecule. Although he had funded his own research until then, on joining Chibnall’s group, he received funding from ‘Beit Memorial Fellowship’ and the ‘Medical Research Council’.
- During 1951-1952, he successfully mapped the complete amino acid sequence of the bovine insulin’s two polypeptide chains. This led the renowned biologist to prove that proteins have definite chemical composition and unique sequence.
- He went from being an external staff to the Medical Research Council to becoming the head of their newly opened ‘Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s Protein Chemistry division in 1962. He began developing new methods for sequencing ribonucleotide fragments for deciphering the structure of RNA.
- His group was beaten to the race of sequencing the tRNA molecule by Robert Holley from ‘Cornell University’ in 1965. Two years later, Sanger’s own group successfully mapped the sequence of 120 nucleotides in the 5S ribosomal RNA of ‘Escherichia coli’.
- He focused his research on sequencing DNA molecules next. In 1977, Sanger along with his colleagues introduced the ‘Sanger Method’ which involved ‘dideoxy’ chain-termination method for sequencing DNA molecules.
- The ‘Sanger Method’ made fast and exact sequencing of long DNA sequences, a possibility. He used this new method to sequence the mitochondrial DNA of humans (16,569 base pairs) and that of the bacteriophage λ (this contained 48,502 base pairs).
- His work on the understanding of the insulin molecule led to the conclusion that all proteins have unique sequence and definite chemical compositions.
- Sanger along with his group of colleagues sequenced the nucleotide sequence of the ribosomal RNA of Escherichia coli (a small RNA of 120 nucleotides), which led to a better understanding of the RNA molecule.
- He was the developer of the process known as ‘Sanger Method’ for DNA sequencing, which later got utilized in DNA mapping for the Human Genome Project.
- In 1954, he was inducted as a ‘Fellow of the Royal Society’ and a ‘Fellow of King’s College’ at Cambridge.
- The biologist received his first Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958 for his research regarding the insulin molecule, and in extension, his success in determining protein’s structure.
- He received his second Nobel Prize in 1980, jointly with Walter Gilbert, for their contributions to the study of base sequences in genomes.
- He was conferred the distinguished ‘Order of Merit’ in 1986, this order is allowed to have only 24 living members at any point of time.
- In 1940, he got married to Margaret Joan Howe, after they met through the Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group. Fred and Margaret had two sons and one daughter.
- In 1992, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust established a genome research centre and named it as the ‘Sanger Center’ (now Sanger Institute) in honor of Frederick Sanger.
- He passed away on 19 November 2013 in his sleep at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
- Sanger refused knighthood, stating that he did not wish to be addressed as “Sir” that would set him different from others.
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