From the late 1920s, University of Leeds biophysicist William T Astbury carried out groundbreaking work using X-rays to study the molecular structure of wool fibres for the West Yorkshire textile industry.
As a result, Professor Astbury helped transform our understanding of biology and made the very first studies of the structure of DNA, so helping to lay the foundations for the 1953 discovery of its double-helical structure by the Cambridge scientists James Watson and Francis Crick. Yet while they went on to win the Nobel Prize, Professor Astbury's name is barely remembered outside Leeds.
Setting Professor Astbury and his work against the wider social and historical backdrop of the time, The Man in the Monkeynut Coat, by Visiting Fellow Kersten Hall, explores the life of this long neglected pioneer.
The book also argues that Professor Astbury's true scientific legacy extends far beyond DNA. Using the method of X-ray diffraction which had been developed at Leeds a few years earlier by his mentor, Sir William Bragg, Cavendish Professor of Physics at Leeds from 1908-1915, Professor Astbury blazed the trail in using this technique to explore the physical structure of the giant molecules that make up living things.
In doing so, he came to be one of the most prominent evangelists for the new science of molecular biology, which sought to understand life in terms of molecular shapes.
Dr Hall, a molecular biologist and science historian, said: "The discovery of the structure of DNA was without doubt one of the biggest landmarks in the history of science. It transformed our understanding of biology and enabled huge advances in medicine such as the production of new forms of insulin for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes.
"Yet few people realise that the very first attempts to solve the structure of DNA were made right here in Leeds. But as a scientist of international renown, Astbury's legacy went far beyond DNA.
"Molecular biology has had a powerful influence on modern medicine. As a former research fellow in molecular biology here at Leeds, I was fascinated to learn more about the pivotal role that Astbury played in the emergence of this groundbreaking new science."
Today, molecular biology is at the heart of modern medicine and has given invaluable insights into diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia. It has also given rise to the modern biotechnology industry, a legacy which the book argues can be traced to Professor Astbury and his insight that the shapes of biological molecules might be deliberately altered.
This idea found powerful expression in his rather unusual overcoat, which was woven from monkeynut proteins that had been deliberately manipulated at the molecular level to make them into a textile fibre substitute called Ardil. It was hoped it might prove a cheap alternative to wool; Professor Astbury wore the coat as an example of the power of the new science.
"Like his coat, Astbury is now largely forgotten," said Dr Hall. "His story is one of both success and disappointment on a grand scale. Despite making the very first studies of the structure of DNA and having a vital clue within his grasp, he never managed to solve the double-helix himself."
Such was the Professor's prowess and reputation that Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz referred to the former's laboratory at Leeds as the "X-ray Vatican".
But despite these accolades, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Professor Astbury sought Government support to fulfil his dream of establishing Leeds as the national centre for the new science of molecular biology but his plans met with rejection.
Dr Hall said: "Some have suggested that this was such a blow to his spirits he simply gave up the pursuit of DNA, yet this seems to conflict with the image of a man for whom science was always an adventure and who was able to infect his co-workers with a similar excitement and enthusiasm.
"As his colleague and friend Professor Reginald D Preston once wrote: 'To be with Astbury is like a perpetual Christmas morning'."
Today, the University of Leeds' Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology (www.astbury.leeds.ac.uk) stands as a fitting tribute to Professor Astbury and his work. The Centre was founded in 1999 as an interdisciplinary research centre and is today one of the University's powerhouses of research, aiming to understand life in molecular detail.
But in the words of Professor Preston, Astbury also left "as a monument the whole of molecular biology as a testament of what he had been striving for."
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
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Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034
David Jayne, Paul Millner, MRC (Aug 2016), £207,860
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Aug 2016), £457,215
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, Dave Westhead, An-Jung Chen, NC3Rs (Aug 2016), £354,456
Peter Henderson, EU - European Union
EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £123,897
Adrian Goldman, EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £116,290
Urwin, Howard Atkinson, NERC
(Jul 2016), £105,053
Eileen Ingham and colleagues in Engineering and M&H, EPSRC (Jul 2016), £3,867,449
Michael Colman, MRC (Jul 2016), £200,956
Tim Benton, Fresca Group Ltd
(Jul 2016), £52,082
Derek Steele, Sarah Calaghan, Chris Peers, BHF (Jul 2016), £819,241
Paul Millner and colleagues in Engineering and M&H, BBSRC (Jul 2016), £129,647
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (Jul 2016), £107,359
John Colyer, Christian Teade and colleagues in M&H, Kidney Research Fund UK (Jul 2016), £39,964
Nicola Stonehouse, David Rowlands, World Health Organisation (Jul 2016), £656,545
Alexander Breeze, MRC
(Jul 2016), £403,513
Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso and colleagues in MaPS, Leverhulme Trust (Jul 2016), £353,301
Joan Boyes, Peter Stockley, Roman Tuma, David Westhead, Bloodwise (Jul 2016), £232,960
Edwin Chen, Leuka
(Jul 2016), £98,642
Helen Miller, Hamlet Protein A/S
(Jul 2016), £22,240
Alexander Breeze, Syngenta
(Jul 2016), £299,629
Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust
(Jul 2016), £599,375
Amanda Bretman, Elizabeth Duncan, Leverhulme Trust
(Jul 2016), £245,369
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson, Richard Foster, Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund (Jul 2016), £51,368
Roman Tuma, Sheena Radford, BBSRC
(Jul 2016), £379,786
Adrian Whitehouse, Ian Carr, Worldwide Cancer Research (Jul 2016), £199,738
Paul Milner, Mike McPherson, Lars Jeuken, Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Engineering & M&H, MRC (Jul 2016), £3,124,568
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Jun 2016), £3,463,470
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society
(Jun 2016), £250,000
Jim Deuchars, Susan Deuchars, Shaunna Burke, Dunhill Medical Trust (Jun 2016), £86,570