SA Nobel Prize winner leaves a legacy
Durban - With the news this week of a third Covid-19 vaccine bringing a positive flurry to world health officials, Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer in virus research, former Durban High School pupil, Sir Aaron Klug, was remembered by staff and pupils.
Klug was the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking research into the 3D structure of viruses and other particles and for the development of crystallographic electron microscopy. He passed away two years ago on Friday November 29, aged 92.
Born in Lithuania in 1926, Klug moved to South Africa with his family when he was two years old.
By the age of three and a half, he was reading newspapers and when he was 15 years old, he won a scholarship to study medicine at Wits University. Matriculating at Durban High School, Klug's interest in microbiology was sparked by when he read Paul de Kruif's 1926 book, Microbe Hunters.
At Wits, he switched studies after a year to natural science and graduated with a first class honours Bachelor of Science degree. He moved to the University of Cape Town to complete his Master's degree.
In 1851 he was awarded a Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission which saw him moving to the United Kingdom to do his PhD in research physics at Cambridge University.
Having gained his doctorate, he went to the University of London where he started working with virologist, Rosalind Franklin, in the laboratory of crystallogrqapher John Bernal, where his lifelong interest in viruses came to life.
Known as a mathematical physicist and crystallographer, his work towards molecular biology was renowned, particularly the structure of spherical viruses.
Together with American structural biologist Donald Caspar, he developed a general theory of spherical shells built up of an irregular array of asymmetric particles. He and his collaborators verified the theory by x-ray and electron microscope studies, revealing new and previously unsuspected features of a virus structure.
Klug's highly distinguished career saw him receiving numerous awards. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1969, the oldest scientific institution in the world, and was served as FRS President from 1995 to 2000. He was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 1988.
In his obituary, his close friend and author of ’Aaron Klug : A Long Way From Durban’, Kenneth Holmes wrote: "His invention of electron tomography in which a 3D image of a virus is obtained from many electron microscopes won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. He discovered proteins called zinc fingers that recognise DNA sequences and initiate the transcriptions of RNA - work that became the basis of gene therapy.“
This week Winston Owen, director of the DHS Swales Online Academy and former old boy, said: "As a mathematician, Klug's love of numbers and patterns may have aroused a degree of amusement to him observing that the second anniversary of his passing would bear the date 20.11.2020 - there is poetry in numbers," said Owen.
Owen added the school’s new Swales Online Academy was underpinned by three pillars: educational curiosity, intrepid tenacity and constant collaboration, which he said was personified by the likes of Klug and another former DHS pupil, Major Edwin (Ted) Swales VC - a South African pilot and WWII hero after whom the academy has been named.
In a press release, Durban High School said of Klug that "in a year ravaged by a virus, it is appropriate that we acknowledge one of our school's forefathers who dedicated his career to the study of macromolecules such as viruses which helped inform our global research of viruses, even today."
"He had a prolific, brilliant and much awarded career in research and discovery. Arguably he is the only South African matriculant to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. DHS is proud to be associated with him".
Additional information : www.nature.com, www.nobelprize.org, www.britannica.com. Wikipaedia.
Independent on Saturday