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Herbert ‘Freddie’ Gutfreund obituaryWorld-leading expert on enzymes whose colleagues at Cambridge’s

colleagues at Cambridge’s fêted Laboratory of Molecular Biology included Crick and Watson

Gutfreund experimenting with nitrogen at Imperial College London in 1943


Freddie Gutfreund was supping a lunchtime pint at the Eagle pub in Cambridge in February 1953 when Francis Crick burst in to announce that he had solved the secret of life. Having witnessed the febrile excitement of his friend, who with James Watson discovered the structure of DNA, Gutfreund would go on to make not insignificant scientific discoveries himself on the structure and function of proteins.

Gutfreund’s principal achievement was to develop techniques to identify and characterize the catalyzed reactions of enzymes. In order to observe constantly moving and shape-shifting protein molecules by the millisecond, Gutfreund developed his own rapid reaction equipment. “If you build your own machine, you can do an experiment that no one else can,” he said.

Key advances in the understanding of glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose) and muscular contraction have emerged from these studies. Among the reagents he discovered are many that provide the basis for drugs to treat diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, caused by proteins that are inactive or overactive. The reagents Gutfreund developed would enable the proteins to do their job. He also devised methods for looking at enzymes involved in breaking down blood sugar, leading to the development of drugs to treat diabetes.

Many of his discoveries were inspired by his close proximity to the scientists who formed the star-studded Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, comprising eight future Nobel laureates, including Crick, Watson, Fred Sanger, and Peter Mitchell.

Scurrying between these brilliant older scientists like an excit