Four University of California
Wendell Meredith Stanley
Wendell Stanley joined the Berkeley
faculty in 1948 at the peak of his scientific career. He received a Nobel
Prize in Chemistry in 1946 for his work on the tobacco mosaic virus, begun
in the 1930s and which he crystallized in 1935. The demonstration of the
molecular properties of the virus gave impetus to a new research approach
in virology: the study of viruses as large molecules. This was a departure
from the predominant view of viruses as infectious agents causing disease.
Professor Stanley later
in his career at Berkeley.
It was partly to pursue this interest
in viruses as biological macromolecules that Stanley left the Rockefeller
Institute for Medical Research to found the Virus Laboratory on the Berkeley
campus and to build a new free-standing Department of Biochemistry that
was not beholden to a medical or agricultural school. Stanley's move to
the University of California afforded him the opportunity to assemble a
group of young scientists practicing the latest physical and chemical techniques
for virus studies. Such studies, he believed, would help elucidate mechanisms
of reproduction and biosynthesis at the subcellular level. He and his colleagues
applied the molecular approach to research on various bacterial, plant,
and animal viruses. In 1954, they succeeded in crystallizing polio virus,
the first time an animal virus had been obtained in crystal form.
Although he was not engaged in formal
instruction, Stanley promoted the blending of teaching and research in
a most fruitful way. However, his success in uniting biochemistry at Berkeley
in one department was short-lived. Tensions stemming from personality clashes
and divergent scientific interests led to Stanley's resignation as Chairman
of Biochemistry in 1953. His group subsequently re-formed as the Department
of Virology, and the Department of Biochemistry relocated to what today
is known as Barker Hall. In 1964, the virologists formed the core of a
newly created Department of Molecular Biology.
Stanley played a major role in shaping
enlightened national and international policy with regard to basic scientific
research for the benefit of mankind. During the growth of the National
Institutes of Health after World War II, he served continuously as an advisor
and spokesman. He aided in the establishment of vigorous fundamental research
programs directed toward the conquest of viral diseases and the study of
viruses in relation to cancer.
Biochemistry at Berkeley
As early as 1946, Stanley
was suggested as possible chair of a newly created Department of Biochemistry.
University President Robert Gordon Sproul began negotiations with him,
and even before he began work Stanley had proposed a budget for a virus
laboratory, as well as for biochemistry at the medical school and on the
Berkeley campus. By December of 1947, Stanley was looking for funding possibilities
for a new building. He began his work at Berkeley in July 1948.
Catching a star
The addition of Wendell
Stanley to the Berkeley faculty was meant to increase the University's
prestige. This goal can be seen in the last sentence of the first paragraph
to this summary, "Every effort will be made to develop this combination
into the foremost center for biochemical research in the world."
A "grand salary" of $9,600
These letters, two from
Stanley and one from Robert G. Sproul, indicate the importance the University
placed on hiring Stanley. In addition to the grand salary of $9,600, President
Sproul (letter of 1/20/47) offers to let Stanley recommend a salary and
position for Dr. C. Arthur Knight, a virologist whom Stanley brought with
him from the Rockefeller Institute.
A new virus lab
Polio research leading to a
Stanley Hall, originally
called the Biochemistry and Virus Laboratory Building, was completed in
1952, funded completely from state appropriations. Although the Rockefeller
Foundation did not contribute to the building as Stanley had hoped, it
did contribute funds for equipment.
Stanley wrote, "I have given
considerable thought to the Virus Laboratory and have decided that much
would be gained by having it in close proximity to the Berkeley department
of biochemistry...The mutual stimulation which would result from close
proximity would be especially valuable."
In the early 1950s, even before the
new building was completed, part of the work of the Virus Laboratory was
devoted to the poliomyelitis virus. In research funded by the National
Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the polio virus was crystallized in
the laboratory in 1954. Lederle Laboratories announced a polio vaccine
during the Stanley Hall opening ceremonies in 1952, but it was the Salk
vaccine that became widely used a few years later.
The first crystallization
of a plant virus
Stanley achieved the
first crystallization of a virus (1935), the basis for his Nobel Prize
of 1946. He later remarked on the unique position of viruses at the junction
of life and non-life:
"The fact that, with
respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist
at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme
only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then
too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living
things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion
of the age-old question of 'What is life?'"
A Nobel laureate
Stanley was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1946 for his work on the tobacco mosaic virus.
The photograph shows Stanley with the other chemistry Nobelists of that
year, John N. Northrop and James B. Sumner.
Franklin’s work on the tobacco
Rosalind Franklin, the accomplished and maligned colleague
of James Watson and Francis Crick, visited Stanley's laboratory several
times to contribute from her work with the tobacco mosaic virus and to
learn from his. In this exchange of letters, she comments upon her experiments
with the virus and the possibility of preparing it for X-ray crystallography
work in order to determine its protein structure.
Stanley and Crick exchange
In this exchange of notes
between Stanley and Francis Crick in 1962, the latter acknowledges the
importance of Stanley’s work in laying the foundation of molecular biology.
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