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Working on cholesterol


My first insulin crystals
Dorothy Hodgkin Scientist
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The amusing thing about insulin was, I went to Oxford because I had been given an actual college appointment involving organising chemistry teaching in the college in term-time until the beginning of October. I meant to arrange... I would have a number of pupils to take care of, and so on, and I thought I would have to put off doing much research at all, but I would just be able to do a little, and I would perhaps begin working on one of the cells and see if I could find out more in detail about the molecule.

But, before I really got going, Robinson, who was very much interested in the whole project of X-ray analysis, offered me a little tube of insulin crystals that he had been given by Boots Pure Drug Company, the first to be made by a new method of crystallisation of insulin that DA Scott had discovered in Canada. And, of course, I couldn't resist them. They, this was adding zinc to them, and... it, he gave me, he had 10 mg in his tube, so I decided what I should have to do. First, was to grow them rather larger, because his crystals were really microcrystalline. And I didn't get any really good ones to try X-ray photography on until the new year, with one thing and another happening during the term.


British pioneer of X-ray crystallography, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), is best known for her ground-breaking discovery of the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12. At age 18, she started studying chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, then one of the University of Oxford colleges for women only. She also studied at the University of Cambridge under John Desmond Bernal, where she became aware of the potential of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins. Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl Oughton, she was one of the first people in April 1953 to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson. She was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is also known for her peace work with organisations such as Science for Peace and the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam. All recorded material copyright of The Biochemical Society.

Listeners: Guy Dodson

Guy Dodson studied chemistry and physical science at the University of New Zealand, followed by a PhD on the crystallographic study of an alkaloid. In 1961, he came to Oxford to work on the crystal structure of insulin. In the mid 1970s Guy and his wife moved to York University to establish a laboratory. In addition to insulin studies the laboratory has investigated many complex molecules of medical significance, including haemoglobin, myoglobin, HIV related proteins, proteases and proteins involved in managing nucleic acids in cells. In 1993, he went to the NIMR in London to establish a crystallographic group in an environment that spanned molecular, physiological and disease-related disciplines. Here his research began on some cell signalling proteins. His interests on medically relevant proteins included prions, malarial and TB proteins, and some clinically relevant thrombin inhibitors. Guy Dodson retired in 2004 but is still finding much to do in York and the NIMR.

Tags: insulin, x-ray analysis, crystals, crystallisation, zinc

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: 1990

Date story went live: 02 June 2008