Five most memorable chemistry papers

Ash over at The Curious Wavefunction has asked for our five most memorable chemistry papers. Here’s mine.

 1) A Specific, Highly Active Malate Dehydrogenase by Redesign of a Lactate Dehydrogenase Framework (Wilks et. al 1988)

If there is a single paper that had the greatest affect on my career decisions then its this one. It quite simply describes how a lactate dehydrogenase was engineered into a malate dehydrogenase. I remember reading it as an undergraduate and marvelling at the fact that mere mortal man had the power to redesign nature’s creations. It drove home the power of molecular biology as well as the wonders of proteins.

I sought out the authors and ended up doing a PhD with one of them.

2 and 3)  A Thermodynamic Scale for the Beta-Sheet Forming Tendencies of the Amino Acids (Smith et. al 1994) and Measurement of the Beta-sheet forming propensities of Amino Acids (Minor & Kim 1994)

These two are both really nice papers that I referred to a lot during my PhD. But the main reason I’m including them in my list is that they are IDENTICAL (within experimental error)! The two groups selected the same protein, made the same mutations, did the same experiments, (reassuringly) got the same results and then published at the same time.

You’ve got to feel sorry for Smith et al. they published in good old Biochemistry, whilst Minor and Kim got a Nature paper. There has got to be a fascinating back story about what happened here, but I’m afraid I have no idea what it is. Maybe I’ll write to the authors and find out.

4) A Day in the Life of Dr K. or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Lysozyme: A Tragedy in Six Acts (Gunnar von Heijne 1999)

Why are papers so often so dry? Here’s the perfect counter to all that dusty language, a review article written in play form and to cap it off diagrams sketched out on napkins. Plus its another career altering paper, it  pushed me towards membrane proteins.  Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 14.09.09

5) Blackawton bees (Blackawton et al. 2010)

This one is a bit of a cheat, because its very obviously not a chemistry paper. However it is a lesson to us all on how to write a paper. Its clear, jargon free and a joy to read.  Why can’t all papers be this clear? Probably because they are rarely written by primary school children. And don’t forget to check out the crayon diagrams and tables drawn with pencil. 

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