ERWIN CHARGAFF (11 August 1905 – 20 June 2002) was an
Austro-Hungarian biochemist that immigrated to the United States
during the Nazi era and was a professor of biochemistry at Columbia
University medical school. Through careful experimentation, Chargaff
discovered two rules that helped lead to the discovery of the double
helix structure of
The first rule was that in
DNA the number of guanine units is equal
to the number of cytosine units, and the number of adenine units is
equal to the number of thymine units. This hinted at the base pair
makeup of DNA.
The second rule was that the relative amounts of guanine, cytosine,
adenine and thymine bases vary from one species to another. This
DNA rather than protein could be the genetic material.
* 1 Early life
* 3 Chargaff\'s rules
* 4 Later life
* 5 Honors
* 6 Books authored
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Sources
* 10 External links
Chargaff was born on 11 August 1905 in
Czernowitz , Duchy of Bukovina
Austria-Hungary , which is now
At the outbreak of World War I, his family moved to Vienna, where he
attended the Maximiliansgymnasium (now the
Gymnasium Wasagasse ). He
then went on to the
Vienna College of Technology (Technische
Hochschule Wien) where he met his future wife Vera Broido.
From 1924 to 1928, Chargaff studied chemistry in
Vienna , and earned
a doctorate working under the direction of
Fritz Feigl .
He married Vera Broido in 1928. Chargaff had one son, Thomas
From 1925 to 1930, Chargaff served as the
Milton Campbell Research
Fellow in organic chemistry at
Yale University , but he did not like
New Haven, Connecticut . Chargaff returned to
Europe , where he lived
from 1930 to 1934, serving first as the assistant in charge of
chemistry for the department of bacteriology and public health at the
University of Berlin (1930–1933) and then, being forced to resign
his position in Germany as a result of the Nazi policies against Jews,
as a research associate at the
Pasteur Institute in Paris
Chargaff emigrated to
New York City
New York City in 1935, taking a position as a
research associate in the department of biochemistry at Columbia
University , where he spent most of his professional career. Chargaff
became an assistant professor in 1938 and a professor in 1952. After
serving as department chair from 1970 to 1974, Chargaff retired as
professor emeritus . After his retirement as professor emeritus,
Chargaff moved his lab to
Roosevelt Hospital , where he continued to
work until his retirement in 1992.
He became an American citizen in 1940.
During his time at Columbia, Chargaff published numerous scientific
papers , dealing primarily with the study of nucleic acids such as DNA
using chromatographic techniques. He became interested in
DNA in 1944
Oswald Avery identified the molecule as the basis of heredity .
In 1950, he discovered that the amounts of adenine and thymine in DNA
were roughly the same, as were the amounts of cytosine and guanine .
This later became known as the first of Chargaff\'s rules .
Main article: Chargaff\'s rules
Erwin Chargaff proposed two main rules in his lifetime which were
appropriately named Chargaff\'s rules . The first and best known
achievement was to show that in natural
DNA the number of guanine
units equals the number of cytosine units and the number of adenine
units equals the number of thymine units. In human DNA, for example,
the four bases are present in these percentages: A=30.9% and T=29.4%;
G=19.9% and C=19.8%. This strongly hinted towards the base pair makeup
of the DNA, although Chargaff did not explicitly state this connection
himself. For this research, Chargaff is credited with disproving the
tetranucleotide hypothesis (
Phoebus Levene 's widely accepted
DNA was composed of a large number of repeats of
GACT). Most researchers had previously assumed that deviations from
equimolar base ratios (G = A = C = T) were due to experimental error,
but Chargaff documented that the variation was real, with typically
being slightly less abundant. He was able to do this with the newly
developed paper chromatography and ultraviolet spectrophotometer .
Francis Crick and
James D. Watson
James D. Watson at
Cambridge in 1952,
and, despite not getting along with them personally, he explained his
findings to them. Chargaff's research would later help the Watson and
Crick laboratory team to deduce the double helical structure of DNA.
The second of
Chargaff's rules is that the composition of
from one species to another, in particular in the relative amounts of
A, G, T, and C bases. Such evidence of molecular diversity, which had
been presumed absent from DNA, made
DNA a more credible candidate for
the genetic material than protein .
Beginning in the 1950s, Chargaff became increasingly outspoken about
the failure of the field of molecular biology , claiming that
molecular biology was "running riot and doing things that can never be
justified". He believed that human knowledge will always be limited in
relation to the complexity of the natural world, and that it is simply
dangerous when humans believe that the world is a machine, even
assuming that humans can have full knowledge of its workings. He also
believed that in a world that functions as a complex system of
interdependency and interconnectedness, genetic engineering of life
will inevitably have unforeseen consequences. Chargaff warned that
"the technology of genetic engineering poses a greater threat to the
world than the advent of nuclear technology. An irreversible attack on
the biosphere is something so unheard of, so unthinkable to previous
generations, that I only wish that mine had not been guilty of it".
Francis Crick ,
James Watson and
Maurice Wilkins received the
Nobel Prize for their work on discovering the double helix of
DNA, Chargaff withdrew from his lab and wrote to scientists all over
the world about his exclusion.
He died on 20 June 2002 in Manhattan.
Honors awarded to him include the Pasteur Medal (1949) and the
National Medal of Science (1974).
* Chargaff, Erwin (1978). Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life
Before Nature. Rockefeller University Press. p. 252. ISBN
* Serious Questions, An ABC of Sceptical Reflections. Boston, Basel,
Stuttgart: Birkhäuser, 1986
* Die Aussicht vom dreizehnten Stock. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1998.
Nobel Prize controversies
* ^ Wright, Pearce (2 July 2002). "Erwin Chargaff: Disillusioned
biochemist who pioneered our understanding of DNA". Obituaries. The
Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
* ^ http://www.bookrags.com/biography/erwin-chargaff-woc/
* ^ Chargaff, Erwin; Stephen Zamenhof; Charlotte Green (May 1950).
"Composition of human desoxypentose nucleic acid". Nature. 165 (4202):
Bibcode :1950Natur.165..756C. PMID 15416834 . doi
* ^ "James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind
Franklin". chemheritage.org. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
* ^ Judson, Horace (20 October 2003). "No
Nobel Prize for Whining".
New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
* ^ Nicholas Wade (June 30, 2002). "Erwin Chargaff, 96, Pioneer In
DNA Chemical Research".
New York Times
New York Times . Retrieved 2014-12-23. Erwin
Chargaff, whose research into the chemical composition of
lay the groundwork for
James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of
its double-helix structure -- the pivotal finding of 20th-century
biology -- died on June 20 in a New York hospital. He was 96.
* ^ National Science Foundation – The President\'s National Medal
Erwin Chargaff Papers, American Philosophical Society
* Chargaff obituary from
The Guardian , July 2, 2002
* Watson, James D.; Baker, Tania A.; Bell, Stephen B.; Gann,
Alexander; Levine, Michael; Losick, Richard (2004). Molecular Biology
of the Gene (5th ed.). Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 0-8053-4635-X .
* The composition of the deoxyribonucleic acid of salmon sperm by E.
Chargaff, R. Lipshitz, C. Green and M. E. Hodes in Journal of
Chemistry (1951) volume 192 pages 223-230.
* Watson, James D. (1980) . The Double Helix: A personal account of
the discovery of the structure of
DNA (critical ed.). Norton. ISBN