Scientists and clinicians around the world have sadly said goodbye to double Nobel Laureate and genomics giant Frederick Sanger, who died this week at the age of 95.
In the course of a glittering career, Dr Sanger became the only person to have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry twice; once in 1958 for techniques to establish the amino acid sequence of proteins, and demonstration of the first protein structure (insulin), and again in 1980 for developing the Sanger sequencing method to determine the nucleic acid sequence of DNA.
Sanger sequencing is still used today, forming the essential bedrock of modern genomics, and the foundation on which the Human Genome Project was built. The world famous Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge is named after him, and his research group at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) produced the first ever whole genome sequence, that of a bacterial virus’
Even amongst Cambridge circles, where Nobel laureates abound, Dr Sanger’s monumental achievements were universally recognised, and yet he remained a friendly and modest man, declining a knighthood, warmly recognising the work of colleagues and attributing his own success to his wife Margaret, of whom he said: “she has contributed more to my work than anyone else by providing a peaceful and happy home”.
Experts have lined up to pay homage to Dr Sanger and his work. Professor Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the MRC, told the BBC that he was a hero of British science, saying: "The death of a great person usually provokes hyperbole, but it is impossible to exaggerate the impact of Fred Sanger's work on modern biomedical science…Yet he was a disarmingly modest man, who once said: 'I was just a chap who messed about in his lab'."