Form follows function. The way something works is intrinsically linked to the shape it takes. Haemoglobin – the molecular messenger bags used by red blood cells to courier oxygen around the body – is no exception. Max Perutz – born on this day in 1914 – developed a technique to reveal haemoglobin’s structure, and in the process became a founding figure of the emerging field of molecular biology. The X-ray crystallography techniques of the early 1950s, based on firing X-rays at a molecule and observing how they reflect off, couldn’t handle a molecule as complex as haemoglobin. But by adding a heavy metal atom to the protein Perutz solved the problem: the resulting change in X-ray behaviour could be interpreted to explain the molecule’s 3D structure. This revelation on how to determine the structure of proteins won him a share of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1962.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.