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Porter, Rodney (Robert)

antibodies biochemistry developed

(1917–85) British biochemist and immunologist: deduced general structure of antibodies.

Born and educated in Liverpool, Porter had just graduated there when his career was diverted by military service from 1940–6; afterwards he worked on proteins with in Cambridge. Then, in London from 1949, he developed his interest in antibodies. He showed in 1950 that some could be partly broken down without total loss of their antigen-binding ability; and by the early 1960s he was able to show that antibodies contain both ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ protein chains; and that they have three distinct regions, of which two are alike and serve to bind antigens, leading to ‘clumping’ (agglutination). Aware also of results, and of data from electron microscopy, Porter made a brilliant guess at the overall molecular architecture of antibodies (see diagram). His scheme could incorporate the facts then known, and it inspired further work by and others that has refined it further. Ideas on antibodies, which had begun with and had developed with , at last took on a firm outline that fruitfully linked their biochemistry with their immunology. Porter became professor of biochemistry at Oxford in 1967 and shared a Nobel Prize with Edelman in 1972.

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