NOBEL FOUNDATIONFrederick Sanger, for whom Sanger sequencing and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. were named, was the only scientist to ever win two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry—first in 1958 and again in 1980. He died Tuesday (November 19) at the age of 95.
According to an obituary released by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K., Sanger was born in 1918 and grew up planning to be a physician like his father. As an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, Sanger decided to pursue biochemistry instead, eventually completing a PhD in the laboratory of Albert Neuberger in the university’s biochemistry department. During his postdoctoral fellowship in the same department in Albert Charles Chibnall’s lab, Sanger sequenced the amino acids in the protein insulin. This work led to his first Nobel Prize in 1958.
From there, Sanger moved to the then-newly opened MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology in 1962 to lead the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division, where he began to work on DNA sequencing. Sanger and Alan Coulson published the dideoxy DNA sequencing method—which is now known as Sanger sequencing—in 1975, for which he shared his second Nobel Prize. He worked at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology until he retired at age 65.
Over the course of his career, Sanger won many other honors—most notably the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1979 and the Order of Merit in 1986—but his views on the Nobel Prize revealed that his true passion was for scientific questions. “I was lucky and happy to get it, but I’m more proud of the research I did,” Sanger once told The Telegraph. “There are some people, you know, who are in science just to get prizes. But that’s not what motivates me.”
“The death of a great person usually provokes hyperbole, but it is impossible to exaggerate the impact of Fred Sanger's work on modern biomedical science,” Colin Blakemore, an emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, told BBC News. “His invention of the two critical technical advances—for sequencing proteins and nucleic acids—opened up the fields of molecular biology, genetics, and genomics.”
Sanger is survived by three children.