Don Caspar on Photographs of History
  Don Caspar     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jan 2001

Oh yeah, I see that there’s one that I haven’t shown Jim. It’s an illustration for this paper that we never published.

…(Filming computer screen)…

Image 1 This was 1953, September 1953. … So Bragg is in the center there. And, you know, he’d invented X-ray crystallography in 1912. There are various pioneers. There’s Ashbury (??), who started the study of virus proteins. The meeting was organized by pauling to celebrate the discovery of the alpha-helix. Jim and Francis (pointing) had just, that spring, produced the double helix. Max Perutz had just laid the foundation for solving protein structures. John Kendrew was in progress of solving the first protein structure. Hugh Huxley had established the basis of muscle contraction. Alex Rich…

Mila Pollock: Point again on Alex Rich.

Beg pardon, oh (points). Well that’s Corey (??). There’s Ashbury (??) again. As I say, this group sort of anticipates a great deal of what has happened in the science of living molecular structures on the past fifty years.

Image 2 But Bernal was not there.

Image 3 This was Bernal in 1938 with Dorothy Hodgkins and Fankuchen and Fan’s wife [Dina]. Dina had been my babysitter when I was three years old and Fan had flown kites for me.

Image 4 This is the X-ray pattern that Fan had gotten in 1938. I heard about the work in the summer of 1938 but TMV didn’t mean anything to me, other than it was something that was shaped like a pencil.

Image 5 But this was Fan’s X-ray summer school in 1947. That [was] myintroduction to X-ray crystallography. John Ensel (??) was…to think that my clasemate was a distinguished Harvard professor—it was just a… Let’s see, ’47, yeah eleven—no, nine years later that Ensel (?) got me to write up work that I had been doing on TMV structure.

Image 6 This is Crane’s model of a helix. This was 1950. This was something that, again, was very influential in Jim and Francis’s thinking about biological structures.,

Image 7 This was from Jim’s paper on TMV, pointing out the helical structure.

Image 8 This is an illustration I drew for this paper we wrote in 1955, that has never been published. Modeling the RNA as going up the center of this helix with twelve and a third dimeric subunits per turn. So everything was wrong.

Mila Pollock: Who wrote this paper?

Jim and I.

Ramah McKay: Jim and you?

Yeah, I sent Jim a copy of the manuscript.

Image 9 Then 1956, Rosalind, who showed us that the model was completely wrong.

Image 10 And this is the diagram that she showed at that CIBA meeting.

Images 11/12 Well, I sent Jim, again, a copy of this photograph from the CIBA meeting. That’s Michael Stoker and Salton (??), Jim, and Francis.

Images 13/14/15 This was the sort of model that Jim had built with the kangaroo (??) wire models in 1952, trying to make a model of the structure of water that was a clue for symmetry of isometric viruses. So the idea was that these viruses would have to have the symmetry of platonic polyhedra.

Image 16 And this was—there’d been fascination with this sort of symmetry for centuries. This is Keppler’s model, structure of the solar system that he had constructed in 1596, so there was sort of a numerological connection between 1596 and 1956.

Image 17 That was Keppler at the time he did it.

Images 18/19/20 This is the X-ray data that I got in Cambridge in, that actually was the fall of 1955. It was then published in 1956.

Image 21 Oh, there we are in Madrid. This was the meeting I was telling you about. There’s Francis Crick, [me], Aaron Klug, and Rosalind Franklin, Odile Crick, and John Kendrew.

Images 22/23/24 This is sort of models. So the clue for understanding the structure was work done by Mr. Fuller—so Fuller emerging from his…

Image 25 This is Aaron Klug with—this is illustration from the 1962 Cold Spring Harbor paper that we presented.

Images 26/27/28/29/30/31/32/33/34 Various models of icosohedral structures.

Image 35 And then this is work that—the development of imagery construction methods. David Rosie.

Images 36//37/38/39/40/41/42/43 Aaron Klug worked out how to interpret a three-dimensional structure from electron micrographs.

Image 44 And that’s a mechanical model of the contractile bacteriophage tailsheaf. These are actual photographs. And that model were made about twenty-five years ago. But now you can do the animations with computer graphics.

Images 45//46/47/48/49 One of my students, Steve Harrison, who solved the first atomic structure of a virus.

Images 50/51 This is illustrating the fact that these structures are not, sort of, static, symmetric structures, but that they are alive and the breathe.

I’ll just run through… This is bacterial flagella. This is bacteria swimming. I mean this is getting a bit away from virus structure, but I mean how the bacterial flagella gets assembled. Light micrographs of the flagella structure transforming. That’s Keith Sunama (???) who’s done a lot of that work.

There’s TMV again. This is the model that Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug made in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair and the completed model is on the staircase of the MRC lab in Cambridge. One of the big problems was, sort of, how to get the construction started, which was, sort of, Klug’s publication (??).

This is a drawing that I had made in 1963 for this paper that John Ensel got me to write.

This was a model for how the disc and helix would switch but that’s a structure that doesn’t exist. It was a figment of our imagination.

This was a meeting in Heidelberg in 1970 when Kentholms (??) moved there. There was Aaron Klug and…

…More about TMV protein and polymorphic assemblies and this is now amyloid structure…sort of clues about why amyloid aggregate was so stable. And back to something Keppler did in 1611 about the structure of the snowflake. So that was my talk. I should send a ‘55 model for the TMV structure that was wrong.

Donald Caspar, structural biologist and crystallographer, is a professor emeritus of Biological Sciences at the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida and is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Born on January 8, 1927, he received his B.A. in Physics from Cornell University in 1950, and his his Ph.D. in Biophysics from Yale University in 1955. Caspar is interested in protein adaptability, virus assembly, protein plasticity and x-ray diffraction. He currently researches the mechanics of protein movements by executing structural studies.

He has attended many symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, starting in 1961, and worked with Watson at Caltech and Harvard. He is a member of the National Academy of Science. Dr. Casper is a long-time friend and colleague of Dr. James D. Watson as well as many of the early pioneers in molecular biology, including Dr. Rosalind Franklin.