Frederick Sanger

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Frederick Sanger, OM, CH, CBE, FRS (born August 13, 1918) is an English biochemist and a two time Nobel laureate in chemistry. He is the fourth and only living person in the world to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes.

Early years

Sanger was born on August 13, 1918, in Rendcomb, a small village in Gloucestershire. He was the second son of Frederick Sanger, a medical practitioner and his wife Cicely. He was educated at Bryanston School and then completed his Bachelor of Arts in natural sciences from St John's College, Cambridge in 1939. He originally intended to study medicine, but became interested in biochemistry as some of the leading biochemists in the world were at Cambridge at the time. He completed his PhD in 1943. He discovered the structure of proteins, most famously that of insulin. He also contributed to the determination of base sequences in DNA.


Sanger determined the complete amino acid sequence of insulin in 1955. In doing so, he proved that proteins have definite structures. He began by degrading insulin into short fragments by mixing the trypsin enzyme (that hydrolyses the peptide/amide bonds between amino acids that make up the primary structure of proteins) with an insulin solution. He then undertook a form of chromatography on the mixture by applying a small sample of the mixture to one end of a sheet of filter paper. He passed a solvent through the filter paper in one direction, and passed an electric current through the paper in the opposite direction. Depending on their solubility and charge, the different fragments of insulin moved to different positions on the paper, creating a distinct pattern. Sanger called these patterns “fingerprints”. Like human fingerprints, these patterns were characteristic for each protein, and reproducible. He reassembled the short fragments into longer sequences to deduce the complete structure of insulin. Sanger concluded that the protein insulin had a precise amino acid sequence. It was this achievement that earned him his first Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1958.

In 1975, he developed the chain termination method of DNA sequencing, also known as the Dideoxy termination method or the Sanger method.[1] Two years later he used his technique to successfully sequence the genome of the Phage Φ-X174; the first fully sequenced DNA-based genome. He did this entirely by hand. This has been of key importance in such projects as the Human Genome Project and earned him his second Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1980, together with Walter Gilbert. The only other laureates to have done so were Marie Curie, Linus Pauling and John Bardeen. He is the only person to receive both prizes in chemistry. In 1979, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University together with Walter Gilbert and Paul Berg, co-winners of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Later in life

Frederick Sanger retired in 1982. In 1992, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council founded the Sanger Centre (now the Sanger Institute), named after him. The Sanger Institute, located near Cambridge, England, is one of the world's most important centers for genome research and played a prominent role in sequencing the human genome.

In 2007 the British Biochemical Society was given a grant by the Wellcome Trust to catalog and preserve the 35 laboratory notebooks in which Sanger recorded his remarkable research from 1989 to currently. In reporting this matter, Science magazine noted that Sanger, "the most self-effacing person you could hope to meet," now was spending his time gardening at his Cambridgeshire home.[2]

Even in retirement, Sanger used his extensive knowledge of DNA to aid modern scientists and professors in their work.

Awards and honours

  • Frederick Sanger, Esq. (13 August 1918-1943)
  • Dr Frederick Sanger (1943-18 March 1954)
  • Dr Frederick Sanger [OBE] for for help in the manufacture of cheese
  • Dr Frederick Sanger, FRS (18 March 1954-1963)
  • Dr Frederick Sanger, CBE, FRS (1963-1981)
  • Dr Frederick Sanger, CH, CBE, FRS (1981-11 February 1986)
  • Dr Frederick Sanger, OM, CH, CBE, FRS (11 February 1986-present)
  • 1958 Nobel Prize for "work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin"
  • 1980 Nobel Prize for "contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids"


  1. Sanger F, Nicklen S, Coulson AR., DNA sequencing with chain-terminating inhibitors, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1977 Dec;74(12):5463-7
  2. "A Life in Science" from the "Newsmakers" page edited by Yudhijit Bhattachjee, Science 317: 879, 2007

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