Plaque in Cambridge to honour the man who made DNA decoding possible

09 December 2005

On Friday 9 December 2005, the Royal Society of Chemistry will commemorate the achievements of the great Scottish chemist Lord Todd, whose work made the DNA breakthrough of Francis Crick and James Watson possible.

At the University of Cambridge Alexander Todd discovered, by a series of chemical syntheses of great delicacy and subtlety, the structure of nucleic acids.  This work opened the way for Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix and to understanding how  complex genetic instructions could be coded.

The Royal Society of Chemistry President Dr Simon Campbell will present a plaque to the University to mark the work of Lord Todd, one of its former Presidents and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1957 for his work on nucleotides and nucleotide co-enzymes.

President Dr Simon Campbell is pictured presenting a Historic Chemical Landmark plaque at the University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry

(From left to right) President Dr Simon Campbell, Professor Jeremy Sanders, Sandy Todd, son of Lord Todd (pictured in the backdrop)

This year is the 50th anniversary of a paper co-authored by Todd on the first chemical synthesis of a nucleotide and which is of major importance in the history of chemistry and molecular biology.

The plaque will be located at the University's Department of Chemistry at Lensfield Road and will say:

"Research in the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge over more than 50 years has established the structures and many principles of the synthesis of molecules that control the processes of life. Notably Lord Alexander Todd FRS and his co-workers invented the chemical synthesis of nucleotides which led to the elucidation of the chemical structure of DNA."

The RSC, under its Historic Chemical Landmark scheme, selects each year two or three sites in the UK where pioneering work or outstanding work has been performed.

Alexander Todd was born in Glasgow on October 2, 1907. He was Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cambridge University and Fellow of Christ's College.  Lord Todd died on January 10, 1997 in Cambridge.

The unveiling of the plaque is preceded by a one-day symposium celebrating the work of Lord Todd and his scientific legacy through talks on the cutting edge of nucleic acid chemistry. Speakers include Dr Stephen Fodor from Affymetrix Inc and Nobel Laureate Professor Sydney Brenner.