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Annu Rev Biochem. 2010;79:1-35. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.79.091407.093947.

From virus structure to chromatin: X-ray diffraction to three-dimensional electron microscopy.

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge CB2 0QH, United Kingdom.


Early influences led me first to medical school with a view to microbiology, but I felt the lack of a deeper foundation and changed to chemistry, which in turn led me to physics and mathematics. I moved to the University of Cape Town to work on the X-ray crystallography of some small organic compounds. I developed a new method of using molecular structure factors to solve the crystal structure, which won me a research studentship to Trinity College Cambridge and the Cavendish Laboratory. There I worked on the austenite-pearlite transition in steel. This is governed by the dissipation of latent heat, and I ended up numerically solving partial differential equations. I used the idea of nucleation and growth during the phase change, which had its echo when I later tackled the assembly of Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) from its constituent RNA and protein subunits. I wanted to move on to X-ray structure analysis of large biological molecules and obtained a Nuffield Fellowship to work in J.D. Bernal's department at Birkbeck College, London. There, I met Rosalind Franklin, who had taken up the study of TMV. I was able to interpret some of Franklin's beautiful X-ray diffraction patterns of the virus particle. From then on, my fate was sealed. After Franklin's untimely death in 1958, I moved in 1962 to the newly built MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, which, under Max Perutz, housed the original MRC unit from the Cavendish Laboratory. I was thus privileged to join the Laboratory at an early stage in its expansion and consequently able to take advantage of, and to help build up, its then unique environment of intellectual and technological sophistication. There I have remained ever since.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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