Aaron Klug on Founding of the Sanger Centre and Early Involvement in Genomics
  Aaron Klug     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jun 2005

I was very much in favor of it. In fact, we started it here. I founded the Sanger Centre and John Sulston. Jim was a great help, Jim Watson because I—after Sydney Brenner left the lab, I succeeded him as the director of the laboratory. Now Sydney wanted John Sulston, who got a Nobel Prize with Sydney and Horvitz, he wanted him to do cDNA. That is just the sequences of expressed genes. I thought not. I thought once they were doing the sequence they should do the whole complete genome sequence. Sydney, in fact, was rather cross about it with John Sulston. But John agreed with me because the key thing is not just the expression of the gene. That is the proteins they are going to make, it’s the regulation of the genes. To get the regulation you need the parts of—you need the genome, those are the sequences which don’t code for proteins. That’s what you need.

Then things—this was done on a nematode. It was clear people were talking about the human genome. Oh, a lot of people, Sydney and many others and what’s his name? Leroy Hood and people like that. There were meetings…

Oh, and Botstein. But Jim watched what was happening here and so John Sulston was developing sequencing and they weren’t waiting. People were talking about getting better machines. I said, just start with what you have. In fact, I believe we were responsible for getting a good start. Jim told us—Jim was a supporter. He said if you can get the cost down to 50 cents a base I could persuade NIH to do it, and we did. Then things became clear that you had to move into an industrial scale. So John Sulston left this lab to set up a joint lab with Wellcome. I persuaded Wellcome to support this and Jim supported us. So Wellcome set up, it was called the MRC Wellcome Laboratory. What was interesting is that Sulston said he was really doing the human ___________ nematode because you can get money for that. So that was the kind of in-house joke.

So later, because the Wellcome was putting more and more money into it, it was no longer equal the Wellcome MRC. But they had a flying start because five people left this lab for what is now called the Sanger Centre.

Yes. Bart Barrell. Bart Barrell was wild. Bart Barrell. Oh, hang on. One of Bart Barrell’s collaborators. One of the people that did sequence information, I will tell you his name in a moment. He’s left the lab now. He went off to the States. Roger Staden, oh it’s all rather long ago. It is more than ten years ago now. But John was the leader and John Sulston, who had had very little to do with ______ proved to be a superb organizer. But we always worried that it might, you know, that funding might stop. So he always had one-fifth of an appointment here. He could always come back here. But things went very well. Richard Durbin, Richard Durbin, he was one of the five. He was a bioinformatic—we now call bioinformatics. He wrote the database. Roger Staden did analysis of—so we had to write programs.

And then what happened was that the program was accelerated because at Caltech Leroy Hood had got the two brothers called Hunkapiller who you may know of and they built some new types of sequencers. So we were able to get hold of these sequencers. But they didn’t give us the code for reading the sequences _______ send it back to Caltech. But John Sulston broke the code so we could decode it ourselves. It was quite interesting. They wanted to keep control of the sequence. Later at Craig’s (??) Celera, that was Craig Venter. Jim’s part was pretty important. Jim was one of the few people who—without his help, it wouldn’t have gone so far. But without our having started it, it wouldn’t have happened. So we had a pretty—I’ve written about this.

I created a new division called the Division of Genome Studies. The word never existed before. That was here. We had Donna Albertson. We had a lot of people. But Sydney wanted the cDNAs because he wanted to know the immediate products of the genes. So Sydney was rather cross about it.

Aaron Klug is chemist and biophysicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. After completing his BSc at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, he attended the University of Cape Town on scholarship where he received M.Sc. degree. In 1949 he moved to Cambridge in England, he studied molecular structure of steel and wrote a thesis on the changes that occur when molten steel solidifies, for which he earned Ph.D. in 1952.

In 1953 he obtained a fellowship to work at Birkbeck Collage in London, where he met Rosalind Franklin. They worked together to determine the structural nature of the tobacco mosaic virus. After Franklin's death in 1958 he continued his work on viruses together with Kenneth Holmes and John Finch. In 1962 he accepted a position at Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

His major contribution to scientific research was the development of crystallography electron microscopy for which he was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

More Information: Wikipedia, Nobelprize.org