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Fred Sanger Dies: Double Nobel Prize-Winning Chemist Was 95

By Michael Mullins   |   Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 12:13 PM

Fred Sanger, the double Nobel Prize-winning British biochemist, died Tuesday in Cambridge, England. He was 95.

Sanger, who once described himself as "just a chap who messed about in his lab," was most well-known for his pioneering research in DNA sequencing, having become the forerunner of mapping the human genome, Reuters reported.

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Sanger's first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1958 for having determined the amino-acid structure responsible for building the hormone insulin.

Sanger's second Nobel Prize, which he shared with biochemists Walter Gilbert and Paul Berg, was awarded in 1980 for his having introduced the "dideoxy" chain-termination method for sequencing DNA molecules. The new technique allowed researchers to accurately sequence long stretches of DNA at a fast pace. It was subsequently named the "Sanger method."

In a 2001 interview with NobelPrize.com, Sanger discussed his two Nobel Prize wins.

"It’s much more difficult to get the first prize than to get the second one," he said, "because if you’ve already got a prize, then you can get facilities for work, and you can get collaborators, and everything is much easier."

Sanger is the only Englishman to have ever won two Nobel Prizes, both of which were in chemistry. The other three two-time Nobel laureates were Poland's Marie Curie, for physics and chemistry, and two Americans – Linus Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace, and John Bardeen, both of which were for physics.

Sanger is also the only scientist to have been awarded the prize for Chemistry twice, the BBC noted.

"The death of a great person usually provokes hyperbole, but it is impossible to exaggerate the impact of Fred Sanger's work on modern biomedical science," Prof. Colin Blakemore, the former chief executive of the UK Medical Research Council, told the BBC.

"He twice changed the direction of the scientific world, first with the sequencing of insulin ... and second with his then new method of sequencing DNA," Craig Venter, a synthetic biology pioneer and founder of the J. Craig Venter Institute, added in an interview with Reuters. "His contributions will always be remembered."

Sanger is survived by his two sons, Robin and Peter, and daughter, Sally.

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