|Denaturation of Proteins
Pauling's work on magnetic properties of hemoglobin piqued his interest in other proteins; however, he already was intrigued
by them. While visiting the Rockefeller Institute in spring of 1935, Pauling convinced Simon Flexner, the institute's president
and a member of the Rockefeller Foundation's board of trustees, to send Alfred E. Mirsky to Caltech for one year. Pauling and Mirsky analyzed the structure of native, denatured and coagulated proteins during the
same time that Pauling and Coryell researched the magnetic properties and structure of hemoglobin and its derivatives.
Mirsky already knew a good deal about the denaturation of proteins and had worked on the denaturation of hemoglobin, thus
Pauling hoped that Mirsky would help him improve his own understanding of proteins. Together they investigated what happens
structurally when a native protein (in the natural state) is denatured (altered). They found that the tertiary structure of
native proteins (i.e. the structure produced when a sequence of amino acids folds and binds to itself) depends upon hydrogen
bonds, which allow the folded protein to hold its shape. During denaturation the hydrogen bonds break down and the protein
loses its tertiary structure. Hemoglobin was one of the substances they analyzed.
Pauling's knowledge about hemoglobin and its derivatives would greatly aid his ability to understand the sickling process
undergone by sickle cell hemoglobin. However, this was not for another seven years, in which time he learned more about chemical
reactions within the human body, especially about immunology.
Click images to enlarge
Portrait of Alfred E. Mirsky, 1960s.
"The Structure of Proteins." 1936.
"I went to New York and gave a seminar at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, in 1936. And at that time, I asked
the director, Simon Flexner, to send Alfred Mirsky and his family to Pasadena to be with us for a year, because of my interest
in hemoglobin. So Mirsky came. Mirsky was astonished that I would have the temerity to approach Flexner -- I was a brash young
man, I think -- and then astonished that it worked out!"
May 10, 1984