Tom Peck: Yet another triumph for the place they call 'the Nobel Prize factory'

The lab got its 14th Nobel award last year. It traces its roots back to the discovery of the DNA double heli

Tuesday 02 November 2010 01:00 GMT

Revelations about man's abilities to battle viruses are just the latest "Eureka" moments to occur inside Cambridge's world-renowned Laboratory of Molecular Biology – which has been dubbed "the Nobel Prize factory".

The lab, which last year received its 14th Nobel award, traces its roots back to the discovery in 1953 of the DNA double helix by Francis Crick and Jim Watson, two of its previous prize winners.

The laboratory was at the forefront of the 1950s and 1960s revolution in molecular biology. Since then it has remained a major medical research laboratory.

A lab tradition often credited for its scientists' success is the mid-morning and afternoon tea breaks. They were instituted more than half a century ago by the late Max Perutz, another Nobel laureate and the laboratory's former director, while his wife Gisela managed the canteen.

Scientists can look up from their microscopes, emerge from fume cupboards and engage in scholarly (or not-so-scholarly) banter. Riotous celebrations have been known to meet a Nobel win.

Fred Sanger twice won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry at the laboratory, once in 1958 and again in 1980, for his work determining the sequence of amino acids in insulin. "I remember coming back to the lab after he'd won his second Nobel," said Richard Henderson, another former director who still works at the LMB.

"It was 7.30pm and there were at least a hundred people still in the canteen – Fred was the only person still standing."

Other winners include John Sulston, Sydney Brenner and Robert Horovitz, who won the medicine prize "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death" in 2002.

Max Perutz and John Kendrew won the chemistry prize in 1962 for studies on the structures of haemoglobin and globular proteins.

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