Fred Sanger dies at 95: 'Father of the genomics' and only Briton ever to win two Nobel Prizes

Dr Sanger was 'one of the most important scientists of the 20th century'

Science Editor

Tributes flooded in today in memory of Fred Sanger, the double Nobel-prizewinning scientist and father of the DNA sequencing technique used to unravel the human genome, who died on Tuesday at the age of 95.

Dr Sanger is one of only four people in the world to be awarded two Nobel prizes and was the only person to win the chemistry prize twice, once, in 1958, for the sequencing the insulin protein and another in 1980 for sequencing the DNA molecule.

Colleagues remembered a highly modest man and outstanding experimentalist who preferred doing things in the laboratory to talking about them in public lectures and media interviews.

He retired at 65 from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and lived to see other researchers complete the first full sequence of the human genome based largely on his pioneering work, which had led to his second Nobel Prize in 1980.

“He was really a hero of mine. He was the quiet scientist. He hated talking and he liked doing things. He was always involved in getting things done,” said Sir John Sulston, Nobel laureate the first director of the research centre named after Sanger – now called the Sanger Institute.

“He had a quiet modesty and although not a religious man he probably inherited something of his parents’ Quaker traditions. He had a strong moral standing. He was a very upright man,” Sir John said.

Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate and deputy director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: “Fred was one of the outstanding scientists of the last century and it is simply impossible to overestimate the impact he has had on modern genetics and molecular biology. Moreover, by his modest manner and his quiet and determined way of carrying out experiments himself right to the end of his career, he was a superb role model and inspiration for young scientists everywhere.”

Dr Sanger refused a knighthood on the grounds that he did not want to be called “Sir”, although he did later accept the Order of Merit. He often worked with quiet determination in unfashionable areas of molecular biology, ultimately with spectacular results.

“Fred Sanger was one of the most important scientists of the 20th century,” said Craig Venter, the American scientist who led the rival private effort to sequence the human genome to the one supported by public institutions in Britain.

“He twice changed the direction of the scientific world, first with the sequencing of insulin, proving that proteins were linear strings of amino acids and second with his then new method of sequencing DNA, which led to the field of genomics. His contributions will always be remembered,” Dr Venter said.

Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said: “Fred was an inspiration to many, for his brilliant work, for his quiet determination and for his modesty. He was an outstanding investigator, with a dogged determination to solve questions that have led to transformations in how we perceive our world.

“His work for his second Prize, a method to decode DNA, has transformed our understanding of life on earth and is the foundation of developments in healthcare from understanding inherited disease to developing new cancer treatment.”

Richard Henderson, former director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: “He was a superb hands-on scientist with outstanding judgement and skill, and an extremely modest yet encouraging way of interacting with his younger colleagues. I particularly remember one young scientist who had asked Fred for advice being told ‘I think you should try harder’.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there