Sanger, Frederick (1918-) is a British biochemist, a scientist who conducts research into the molecules that occur in the cells of animals, plants, and other organisms. He won the 1958 and 1980 Nobel Prizes in chemistry. He became the second person to receive two Nobel Prizes in the same field. The first was American physicist John Bardeen, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956 and 1972. Sanger received the 1958 chemistry prize for developing a method of studying the structure of proteins. His research centered on the structure of insulin, the protein hormone that helps the body use sugar. Sanger won the 1980 Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing a method of determining the chemical structure of large pieces of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the substance that makes up genes. Sanger shared the 1980 prize with American biochemist Paul Berg and American molecular biologist Walter Gilbert, who independently .did related work concerning the chemical structure of nucleic acids.
Sanger was born on Aug. 13, 1918, in Rendcombe, England. His father, also named Frederick Sanger, was a physician. His mother was Cicely (Crewdson) Sanger. From 1932 to 1936, Sanger attended the Bryanston School in Dorset, England. Sanger came from a family of Quakers.
Sanger attended St. John's College at Cambridge University. He earned a B.A. degree in natural sciences in 1939 and a Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 1943. His doctoral research involved studying lysine, an amino acid. Amino acids are the types of organic acids that make up all the proteins in living things. Scientists call amino acids the building blocks of proteins.
From 1944 to 1951, Sanger held a medical research fellowship at Cambridge. In 1951, he joined the Medical Research Council (MRC) of the United Kingdom. From 1962 until his retirement in 1983, he served as head of the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division at the MRC's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
Sanger began his studies of insulin at Cambridge in 1943 and continued this work at the MRC. Using samples of insulin from cattle, he set out to determine the sequence of the 51 amino acids in the insulin molecule. In the late 1940's, he discovered a way to cut the molecular bridges joining chains of amino acids, allowing him to study single chains and smaller pieces and then separate and identify the individual amino acids. With other researchers helping him, this painstaking process took several years to complete. In 1955, he presented the complete structure of insulin, an accomplishment for which he won his first Nobel Prize in 1958.
Sanger then turned his attention to analysis of nucleic acid molecules, particularly ribonucleic acid (RNA) and DNA. These molecules contain hundreds or thousands of smaller chemical units called nucleotides. Sanger developed new techniques for sequencing nucleotides. By 1977, he and his research team had established the sequence of more than 5,000 nucleotides along a strand of DNA from a bacterial virus. This sequencing work was recognized with Sanger's second Nobel Prize in 1980. Sanger and his group later sequenced about 16,000 nucleotides in the DNA of human mitochondria, the parts of a cell that transform chemical energy from food into an energy form the cell can use. They then moved on to sequence the 172,000-plus nucleotides of the Epstein-Barr virus.
He received the Royal Society's Royal Medal in 1969, and its Copley Medal in 1977. He was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1963. Sanger received the William Bate Hardy Prize of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1976. In 1979, he won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
He has written many articles for scientific journals. Some of his writings were collected in Selected Papers of Frederick Sanger, with Commentaries, published in 1996.