This draft of a report on the operation of the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology during its first
one-and-a-half years was likely written during the latter half of 1963. In it Crick stated that "The mechanism of protein
synthesis and the genetic code are now partly understood. It is broadly true to say that all the classical problems of Molecular
Biology are either solved in outline or well on the way to solution."
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
17 (3,434,742 Bytes)
Original Repository: Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine. Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers
The laboratory has now been in operation for about 1 1/2 years. All three Divisions are now well set up, with substantial
programme of work in progress. There has been considerable informal collaboration betwen [sic] the Divisions, much facilitated
by the [ . . . ]. There has also been a fair amount of sharing of apparatus. Joint research programmes between the Divisions
has [sic] only recently started [ . . . ] expected to develop further.
We note, with some regret, that no collaboratin [sic] has yet sprung up between Pvt.[?] Mitchels [sic] department and our
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As to facilities[?], it is fair to say that[?] for the four senior workers the space and equipment provided was very good.
It has, however, proved inadequate in two respects
(1) Insufficient space was allowed for Huxley and Klug to build up groups within the Laboratory. Both Huxley and Klug have
inter[ . . . ] reputations and on any assessment should have more space. The same would have been true of Tissieres[?] if
he had decided to stay with us.
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(2) the space required for biochemistry was somewhat underestimated.
The total entire[?] space needed to cover thes [sic] requirements is not very great. Probably a entire[?] 2,000 ft square
would have been enough.
However since then Molecular Biology has advanced rapidly. The X-ray analysis of myoglobin and haemoglobin [sic] has made
great strides. The mechanism of protein synthesis and the genetic code are now partly understood. It is broadly[?] true
to say that all the classical problems of Molecular Biology are either solved in outline or [ . . . ] on the way to solution.
The time has come, therefore, to make a reassessment of our work.
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It may seem surprising that this should be necessary so soon after the laboratory has been built, but this is because the
rate of advance of scientific research is becoming almost as fast as the rate of erecting buildings.
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3. Immediate Developments
A. Structural Studies and Protein Synthesis
The major problem here is to relate structure to function, not only for the two oxygen carriers but for some enzymes as well.
We feel that the [ . . . ] effort expended[?] on the problem of enzyme structure should be balanced by studies on enzyme function.
We also feel that our strength in x-ray analysis and electron microscopy should be matched by an ability to apply optical
and other physical methods to the study of biological macromolecule.
The studies on enzyme function could be more easily be directed by Hartley[?]. For the physical chemistry we should need
to recruit someone from outside. The total floor space needed for these purposes is also 2000 ft square.
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B. Molecular Genetics
The new major problem in this field is the genetics and biochemistry of control mechanisms. We feel that is the first place
this can for [ . . . ]ical reasons, be more easily studied in micro-organisms, and this work has already been started. It
is nevertheless very desirable to continue the present[?] studies or protein synthesis and the genetic code to provide a proper
background to the attack on the central problem.
It is obvious that the problem of control mechanisms will lead in to higher organisms and to embryology. While it is not
easy at this stage to see the most fruitful line of development two points should be made:
(1) it would be sensible to start exploratory work now on
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one or two "model systems." We have in mind small [ . . . ], chores[?] to be suitable for rapid genetic and biochemical
techniques, but work on higher organism is not included.
(2) this area, of all those discussed here, is likely to expand steadily as time goes on.
To develope [sic] this work we have the ideal person in Bresner[?]. It will be recalled then Bresner[?] was originally recruited
in order to build up the biochemical and genetical work. His position in the presen[?] laboratory is indispensible, not only
because of his obvious ability and his detailed
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technical knowledge, but because he is practically the only senior worker in the laboratory with a biological and medical
We estimate that for the first phase of this work about 2000 ft square would be required.
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4. Longer Term Plans
In the long run it is inevitable that molecular biology will move towards and become part of cell biology. (Insert A) It
is our strong conviction that the proper direction for our work to take is towards more biological studies. (Insert B)
We are entirely fortunate in having in Bresner[?] the ideal person to direct this work, though it is doubtful if he could
take on these additional problems unaided. A possible arrangement would be to find a new senior person to look after the
biochemical part of the Molecular
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(A) We do not wish to spend our time solving problems while[?] although both molecular and biological are of trivial biological
(B) We shall then be in a position to approach central biological problems from our molecular view-point.
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Genetics the Division (it will be recalled that we originally had [ . . . ] in mind for this role), and to create a new Division
for Control Mechanisms[?] under Bresner[?]. However whatever is eventually proposed it will entail space for Bresner's[?]
expansion, and it would be sensible to start to build this space now, even if it is not fully equipped immediately. The one
we have in mind for this is 4,000 ft square.
5 Optimum size of laboratory
It has been said . . . together.
We should persist[?] [ . . . ] that it is quite rare[?] to find such a constellation[?] of senior workers who get along so
well that they wish to stay together!
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The position of Dr. Leslie Orgel[?] is a rather special one and has to be considered apart from the development of the laboratory.
In the first place it should be realized that Orgel has been very closely associated with us ever since he came to Cambridge
in 1956. He has followed all our work in considerable detail, and in the process has acquired a wide and deep knowledge
of molecular biology. He has written (either
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alone or in collaboration with us) several theoretical papers, and is at present engaged on a critical review on the difficult
subject of mutagenesis. It is universally recognized that he has one of the keenest intellects in molecular biology. Moreover
his judgment is good and his in[ . . . ] is fertile. If he wished to join us as a theoretician (for which he would need very
little space) we should give the proposal our whole-hearted support.
However he has made it completely clear that he wishes to direct experimental work. It has been suggested that he take over
the physical chemistry in the laboratory. Reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that this is not a good idea, since
we feel that although he wishes to do experiments on some aspects of the physical chemistry of biological
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macromolecules his real interests lie elsewhere.
There seems little doubt that this problem that attracts his criteria above all others it that of the origin of life, and
in particular the relatively simple chemical reactions which are presumed to have built up the concentration of small organic
molecules needed before life could begin. He has [ . . . ] about these problems for several years, and has interests and
novel ideas on what experiments should be done. His wide knowledge of molecular biology, combined with his easy grasp of
theoretical chemistry make him the ideal person for this work. It would be difficult to
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match these qualifications anywhere in the world, and impossible in Great Britain. We have no doubt that such work, directed
by him, could lead to very interesting results.
This problem -- the origin of life -- is not in the same state as the other lines of work in the laboratory. Rather it recalls
the state of molecular biology at the time the Council first set up our Unit. Many interesting thins can be tried, but definitive
answers to the same question are not likely to be obtained[?] for some time. Moreover the results will be mainly of "pure"
scientific interest, although we are confident than they will also illuminate molecular biology, and thus, indirectly, medicine
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To support such work is therefore something of a gamble. We feel strongly, however, that this is the sort of gamble which
the Council (and other similar organizations) must take from time to time, at least in a few well-chosen areas, if the vitality
of the biological science is to be preserved. Moreover if Orgel[?] does not receive support he will go to the States, where
he will have no difficulty at all in getting all the facilities he wants. The loss to British Molecular Biology would be
very great: He is, after all, the youngest F.R.S. in the subject.
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Although we cannot make a case that this project of Orgels[?] is linked very closely to our other work, we are culturally
interested in it. It is clear that his work should be supported somewhere in England. We would like him as a colleague and
he would like to work alongside us. obviously [sic] the sensible plan would be to provide space for him as part of the [
. . . ] of our laboratory. Failing that we hope that a unit will be created for him elsewhere in Cambridge, so that we should
[ . . . ] be able to remain in close touch with him. The space he would require is estimated as ft square.