The Father of Us All

Contrary to the implication in some obituaries, Max Perutz, who died on Feb. 6, 2002 in Cambridge, England, just a few months before his 88th birthday, did not determine the first three-dimensional structure of a protein molecule. John Kendrew did that. Max did determine the structure of the hemoglobin molecule, but Kendrew's low-resolution myoglobin structure predated the 5.5 Ångstrom-resolution hemoglobin structure by more than a year, and when Max published his low-resolution work showi

Gregory Petsko
Apr 1, 2002
Contrary to the implication in some obituaries, Max Perutz, who died on Feb. 6, 2002 in Cambridge, England, just a few months before his 88th birthday, did not determine the first three-dimensional structure of a protein molecule. John Kendrew did that. Max did determine the structure of the hemoglobin molecule, but Kendrew's low-resolution myoglobin structure predated the 5.5 Ångstrom-resolution hemoglobin structure by more than a year, and when Max published his low-resolution work showing that hemoglobin had the same all-helical fold as myoglobin, Kendrew was publishing his interpretation of myoglobin at 2 Ångstroms resolution, in full atomic detail.

Nor, as many people have assumed, did Max invent the method used to determine those two structures and thousands that have come after them. The method was invented years earlier for small organic molecules by J.M. Robertson of Glasgow University, in a series of brilliant crystallographic studies. Robertson had even suggested at...

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