Linus Pauling: Harvey Itano came to work with me; he had an MD degree, and was the first American
Chemical Society fellow in pure chemistry given this fellowship, given to him, so
that he could work for a Ph.D. I asked, before he arrived, if he would be interested
in looking at the blood of people with the disease sickle cell anemia to see whether
the hemoglobin might not be an abnormal form of hemoglobin, and he did. It was a hard
job; it took three years, and Dr. John Singer and Ibert Wells began helping him, and
sure enough they found that it is different.
Their experiment, I’ll describe it in a simple way, if you take a little trough of
salt solution, neutral pH 7, and put a drop of hemoglobin in it, the hemoglobin has
a little negative charge, so if you put in electrodes, the anode here, the cathode
here, positive electrode, the hemoglobin begins to move towards the positively charged
electrode. You can see it, it’s red; you can see that the molecules are moving over.
When they put in a drop of hemoglobin from the red cells of a patient with sickle
cell anemia, it began to move toward the cathode, it had a positive charge instead
of a negative charge, and the differences in mobility corresponded to two - this is
all old, an old story, but, you know, I’m fond of it - the difference corresponds
to about two electronic charges difference.
They took some blood from the father of a patient and some from the mother and put
it in the apparatus, and the blood from the father, half of it began moving toward
the anode and half toward the cathode, and similarly the blood from the mother. This,
of course, explained the genetics. Normal people have two genes, each of which manufactures
normal hemoglobin. The sickle cell patient had two genes that manufactured sickle
cell hemoglobin. But the parents were heterozygotes; each parent had one normal gene
and one sickle cell gene. And they set up their assembly lines independently of one
another, and the one gene controlled the manufacture of normal hemoglobin and the
other the manufacture of sickle cell hemoglobin. Very interesting.