Wednesday, November 20, 2013

He opened up the path for GENETIC ENGINEERING, thus propelling biology from the dark ages into the future...

A scientist who influenced our lives more than we'll ever know, Frederick Sanger has died today at the glorious age of 95. 
 
 
Although he described himself as a "chap who messes up in the lab", he got two Nobel Prizes for work that reached deeply into curing diseases like diabetes and into advancing the toolbox needed to understand the Human Genome.  Through his work, he opened up the path for genetic engineering, an awesome scientific paradigm that will still bear fruit years and years from now...
 
I remember spending long evenings in the lab as a fresh postdoc, sequencing DNA gels based on the method he developed.  It was tedious work, starting with pouring a finicky gel between two extra-large glass plates and sometimes getting dreaded air bubbles exactly where the most critical part of the DNA sequence was supposed to be  (the so-called  "bubblerama" in postdoc jargon...)
 
But more importantly I remember the thrill of getting clean, useful DNA sequence, that gave me answers no other technology or method could.  The DNA sequence from the gel could be assembled into genes that could explain or predict the complicated circuitry of life or death.   
 
And I recall (as I was reading those DNA sequencing gels or I was waiting for my turn in the dark room) my awe on his coming up (along with other brilliant scientists) with his magical method that deciphered what bases make up a string of DNA.  And how his esteemed "Sanger method" gave any scientist out there (including a budding one like me) the toolbox necessary to bring his or her little contribution to the world of science.
 
And as a final confession:  I admire him for his scientific accomplishments, but I love him because (through all the brouhaha of his two Nobel prizes) he had the guts to remain himself.  So much so that at 65 he actually retired - to simply devote time to his garden...

And while I do not know the reasons for his retirement, I think one of his quotes  gives some directional insights:  "I was married to Margaret Joan Howe in 1940. Although not a scientist herself she has contributed more to my work than anyone else by providing a peaceful and happy home."