Thursday, February 21, 2008

History better learned late than never

I've always been interested in history, and the history of science is no exception. I thought I knew a bit about the history of DNA sequencing, so it was a bit of a rude surprise to read the obituaries on Wed for Dr. Ray Wu and discover that he had published one of the first DNA sequencing methods, a method that is credited with being the forerunner of Sanger sequencing. I was totally unaware of this history.
Sadly, the Wikipedia article on DNA sequencing doesn't cover this at all.

A bit of Medline hunting, aided by Dr. Wu's page at Cornell, found a few articles in PubMed, most sans abstracts and few with full text (Somebody PLEASE arrange legally to get classic J Mol Biol as free full text!). Luckily there are a few papers -- this NAR paper and an earlier PNAS one. If I'm reading it correctly, then it involved 2D analysis of digestion maps, which I had heard of so perhaps my historical knowledge isn't totally deficient.

The one question that occurs is why didn't Dr. Wu stay in the DNA sequencing business. I wonder if he left any thoughts -- was it just not interesting enough or did Sanger & Gilbert just jump ahead so he felt like it wasn't the right place to be. Whatever his reasons it can't really be criticized -- Wu had quite a publication record and appeared to be active essentially to the end of his life. It would just be interesting to understand why he took the direction he did.


such.ire said...

I've heard of this method; I remember that Maniatis and Ptashne used it to publish some early sequences of lambda phage regulatory elements.

Anonymous said...

Here's a bit from the summary:
"In this communication, we wish to report on the complete sequence of deoxynucleotides in the two cohesive ends of a molecule of lambda (Λ) DNA. The sequence which is 12 base pairs in length consists of ten G-C and two A-T pairs. The procedures described here for sequence determination utilizing DNA polymerase-catalyzed incorporation may also be applicable to sequence analysis in other types of DNA molecules."

The pdf is available through ScienceDirect:

Tom K
MMI Core Facility
Oregon Health & Science University