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Curiosity & Collaboration:
The Work of Michael Potter

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Molecular Model of Variable Part of Antigen-binding Fragment of Mouse Antibody, 1975


large model representation of a staphyloccal nuclease molecular sculpture made from wire in glass case

Donated by Dr. David Davies

Made by Dr. David Davies, an expert in crystallography, this was the first molecular model of an antibody fragment of a mouse antibody (FAB).

The NIH Record wrote in 1975: “By helping to define the 3-dimensional structure and chemical make-up of antibodies— proteins critical in the body's defenses against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances—NIH scientists are contributing to an international effort that may eventually make possible the manufacture of artificial antibodies…. Dr. Davies noted that the structural analysis would have been impossible without a source of crystallizable antibody. Most antibodies, produced by a variety of plasma cells, are heterogeneous and won't crystallize. Dr. Michael Potter and colleagues in NCI solved this critical part of the puzzle by providing quantities of the unique, homogeneous antibody produced in plasma cell tumors of inbred mice.” See page 5

Davies had studied under John Kendrew at Cambridge in England as a visiting scientist from the National Institute of Mental and so was uniquely trained to construct such models. In 1958, Kendrew had reported the first visualization of a protein’s structure when using low resolution x-ray crystallographic analysis on the protein myoglobin. A model of the protein had to be built for publication purposes. In 1965, Kendrew approached A. A. Barker, an employee of the Cambridge University Engineering Laboratories, asking him to make more models for him. Barker used a ball and stick type of model so that the center was open to be visible and adjustable. Putting together the models was made easier when A. Beevers, a professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, invented a machine to drill holes in small plastic balls. The ball and stick set-up for the protein models became known as Kendrew components.

Read our oral histories with David Davies