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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1949:   Amino Acids and Proteins, Vol. XIV

Organizer: Milislav Demerec

Table of Contents

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This Symposium was the one of the series of meetings that marked the shift from the biophysical topics of the earlier Symposia to the fields of proteins and genetics that dominated the 1950s and 1960s. It is also notable as the first Symposium to be illustrated by candid snapshots of the participants. These photographs have appeared in all subsequent volumes and are a treasure trove of pictures of many of the most important biologists. They are also a wonderful record of the changing fashions in the scientific world. In 1949, jackets and ties are much in evidence, and pipes add to the studious demeanor of several participants.

Some of the participants in the Symposium presented work that was about to yield results of tremendous importance. Fred Sanger reported on his progress in determining the amino acid seqeunce of insulin, and it is a measure of the knowledge of the time that he could write that his results "...suggest that each position in a protein chain is occupied by a single unique amino acid residue...it does suggest that proteins are real chemical entities with a unique structure...". Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin summarized her contributions to treating proteins as real chemical entities by describing X-ray crystallographic studies of proteins. Both would win Nobel Prizes for this work. Paul Zamecnik described studies of protein synthesis in slices of rat liver that would take some years to come to fruition, but that led to the development of cell homogenates for protein synthesis and the discovery of

transfer RNAs.

There were two papers by pioneers in techniques for the analysis of amino acid mixtures. William Stein and Stanford Moore described their procedures for column chromatography separation of amino acids while Richard Synge reported on his and A. J . P. Martin's analyses of gramicidin using paper chromatography and silica gel chromatography. Synge andMartin received the 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. (Stein and Moore shared the 1972 Chemistry Prize but for their work on ribonuclease rather than their chromatography methods.)

The timing of the meeting was just right and there were more than 180 participants. But while progress was being made, much was still hidden from view. Zamecnik ended his paper with a poem by Robert Frost:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows
It would not be until the 1963 Symposium on "Synthesis and Structure of Macromolecules" that the dancers could talk about what it was that was there, in the middle of the ring.

Jan A. Witkowski

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