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Celebrating the work of a neglected scientific pioneer
Date:6/16/2014

t few people realise that the very first attempts to solve the structure of DNA were made right here in Leeds. But as a scientist of international renown, Astbury's legacy went far beyond DNA.

"Molecular biology has had a powerful influence on modern medicine. As a former research fellow in molecular biology here at Leeds, I was fascinated to learn more about the pivotal role that Astbury played in the emergence of this groundbreaking new science."

Today, molecular biology is at the heart of modern medicine and has given invaluable insights into diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia. It has also given rise to the modern biotechnology industry a legacy which the book argues can be traced to Professor Astbury and his insight that the shapes of biological molecules might be deliberately altered.

This idea found powerful expression in his rather unusual overcoat, which was woven from monkeynut proteins that had been deliberately manipulated at the molecular level to make them into a textile fibre substitute called Ardil. It was hoped it might prove a cheap alternative to wool; Professor Astbury wore the coat as an example of the power of the new science.

"Like his coat, Astbury is now largely forgotten," said Dr Hall. "His story is one of both success and disappointment on a grand scale. Despite making the very first studies of the structure of DNA and having a vital clue within his grasp, he never managed to solve the double-helix himself."

Such was the Professor's prowess and reputation that Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz referred to the former's laboratory at Leeds as the "X-ray Vatican".

But despite these accolades, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Professor Astbury sought Government support to fulfil his dream of establishing Leeds as the national centre for the new science of molecular biology but his plans met with rejection.

Dr Hall said: "Some have suggested that this was such a blow to h
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Contact: Gareth Dant
g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk
01-133-433-996
University of Leeds
Source:Eurekalert  

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