Proving it was phenylalanine, Marshall Nirenberg

Interviewee: Marshall Nirenberg. Having made phenylalanine using poly-U mRNA, Marshall Nirenberg still had to prove it. He talks about how he did this with help from a fellow scientist – Michael Siler. (DNAi Location: Code > Reading the code > Players > Marshall Nirenberg > Proving it was phenylalanine)

And he just looked at me, first he asked why do you want to know, so I told him what we had found. And then he said, I don't know much, he says, but I can tell you two things: polyphenylalanine, he says, is extremely insoluble, it doesn't dissolve in many solutions, but it does dissolve in fifteen percent concentrated acetic acid dissolved in hydrobromic acid. You know, I looked at him in astonishment, because I'd never heard of a solvent like that. And he said I've just made up this reagent, he says, do you want some? And of course, you know, I took it with great gratitude, what I didn't know, and I didn't find out until about ten years later, was that he was the only person in the world who knew that polyphenylalanine was, would dissolve in that solvent, because he had made a mistake one time a few months earlier.

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