Mahlon Hoagland on Research Highlights: Discovering the Mechanics of Amino Acid Activation
  Mahlon Hoagland     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Jun 2006

Well, the discovery of the actual—when I labeled amino acids, radioactive amino acids onto transfer RNA and then incubated that with ribosomes where namely all the amino acids that we had previously on transfer RNA went into protein was the most exciting experiment I had ever done and I remember vividly. It was nighttime in the laboratory. I even remember that there was a phosphorescent tube that was buzzing and annoying me. I put the components together. I’ve written about this many times. I put the components together and then carried out the incubations then with or without ATP for instance and some other things and then put the materials from the stopped reactions into a Geiger counter to count the radioactivity and discovered that all the radioactivity had been transferred to protein. I knew then that we had discovered a key intermediate in protein synthesis and that you never can forget the details.

Mahlon Hoagland, a molecular biologist who was one of the discoverer of the transfer ribonucleic acid - tRNA. He received a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1948. He served as a doctor during the Second World War. When the War ended he returned to Harvard and became researcher in the Huntington Laboratories at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He worked in the bacteriology and immunology department of Harvard Medical School from 1952 till 1967.

Working together with Paul Zamecnik and Elizabeth Keller he discovered the initial steps of protein synthesis. Two years later in 1958 Hoagland and Zemecnik discovered tRNA. His main input to the laboratory was in his work with amino acid activating enzymes. He noticed that certain enzymes were required to activate amino acids so they could combine with tRNA molecules and eventually be incorporated into new protein molecules. These enzymes were named aminoacyl tRNA synthetases.

In 1957 Hoagland moved to Cambridge where he worked for a year with Crick at Cambridge University. Working together they tried to explain the genetic code. He was Associate Professor of Microbiology at Harvard Medical School and in 1967 was appointed professor in the biochemistry department at the Dartmouth Medical School. After 3 years he left Dartmouth and became Director and President of the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Massachusetts. He retired in 1985.

Mahlon Hoagland was awarded the Franklin Medal for life science. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences. He died on September 19, 2009.

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