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Collection Level Description: Historical material relating to the Oxford Enzyme Group

Reference: MSS. Eng. c. 2662-2681
Title: Historical material relating to the Oxford Enzyme Group
Dates of Creation: 1968-1990
Extent: 20 boxes
Language of Material: English

Administrative/Biographical History

The Oxford Enzyme Group was formally created, and began its regular meetings, in October 1969; its first research grants were awarded in August and November 1970. For an appreciable time before that, however, its leading members had been working both to encourage and to respond to official initiatives aimed at fostering enzyme research and to establish a climate in which collaborative research could flourish at Oxford. A major advance had been made not in Oxford, but in London, by D.C. Phillips and his team at the Royal Institution who had successfully analysed the three-dimensional structure of Iysozyme in 1965. G. Lowe and J.R. Knowles from the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, Oxford, had been among the first to approach him for information about the model. In the following year (1966) Phillips and members of his team arrived in Oxford to start the new Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics, thus continuing the impetus to enzyme research. A personal benefaction to him from the Dupont Company enabled him to sponsor a series of fortnightly dinners which brought together colleagues in several disciplines as a nucleus of a collaborative group. On a technical level, the large-scale and expensive facilities required for interdisciplinary research, such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), X-ray crystallography and high-speed computation, were also beginning to come together at Oxford.

An important official step was taken in February 1968 when the Science Research Council (SRC) set up an Enzyme Panel as a Joint Panel of its Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering and Technology Committees. The Panel's terms of reference were: 'To examine various aspects of the enzyme field in order to discern areas where new or more research could profitably be undertaken, and to consider how best to foster any desirable activities and to make recommendations for appropriate SRC support'. The Chairman of the Panel was Sir Ewart Jones, Phillips was a member, and the Technical Secretary was Knowles.

The Panel first met in February 1968, and reported in February 1969. It recommended that 'special efforts should be made, even involving methods of support novel to the Science Research Council, to foster research in this highly interdisciplinary, exciting and economically important field'. It stressed the importance of collaborative work, recognised the requirements for high resolution NMR equipment, and facilities for the preparation of adequate supplies of pure enzymes. It envisaged the need for long-term support (up to five years) and in some cases for building provision, and suggested the establishment of an Enzyme Chemistry and Technology Board with grant-giving powers, to be responsible for the support of research along these lines. The recommendations were accepted and a new Enzyme Chemistry and Technology Committee was set up in March 1969, with Jones as Chairman and G.W. Kenner, H.L. Kornberg, and D.C. Phillips as members.

Plans for collaborative research, and bids for accommodation, had been prepared and circulated in Oxford at various dates in 1968 and 1969, the main participants in this endeavour being Phillips, Knowles, R.E. Richards and R.J.P. Williams. One of these proposals, which envisaged a three-year programme, was considered at the first meeting of the Enzyme Chemistry and Technology Committee in April 1969, at the request of its Chairman Sir Ewart Jones. By the time the five-year grants were announced, in August 1970 for a preparation laboratory, equipment, and staff, and in November 1970 for an ultra high field NMR spectrometer, negotiations were well in train for accommodation for the preparation laboratory as part of the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics located in the Department of Zoology. Bruker Spectrospin and the Oxford Instrument Company were responsible for the design and supply of the NMR equipment.

Scope and Content

The collection contains:

Section A: Early history [MSS. Eng. c. 2662-2663]

Section B: Enzyme Preparation Laboratory [MS. Eng. c. 2664]

Section C: NMR spectrometry [MSS. Eng. c. 2665-2666]

Section D: Grant applications and funding [MSS. Eng. c. 2667-2670]

Section E: Meetings, membership, research [MSS. Eng. c. 2671-2675]

Section F: Accommodation and building [MS. Eng. c. 2676]

Section G: Administration and finance [MS. Eng. c. 2677]

Section H: Reports and publications [MSS. Eng. c. 2678-2679]

Section J: Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) [MSS. Eng. c. 2680-2681]

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection has been brought together from several sources and over a considerable period of time from November 1987 to September 1990. The greater part was received from Sir Rex Richards, the founder Chairman of the Oxford Enzyme Group (OEG), and this was supplemented by the relevant papers of Sir David Phillips who acted as Richards's Deputy Chairman during the latter's service as Vice-Chancellor 1977-1981 and succeeded him as Chairman in 1983. Additional material relating especially to the later years was given by Dr. C.M. Dobson, the group's last secretary.

As well as these principal sources, other members of the OEG or those connected with its history have contributed smaller amounts of material, or written their own recollections: Professor R.A. Dwek, Professor Sir Ewart Jones, Professor L.N. Johnson, Professor J.R. Knowles and Professor R.J.P. Williams.

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Finding Aids

A fuller description and detailed index are available in the Library and at The National Archives.

Related Units of Description

See Papers of Sir Rex Richards and Papers of Dorothy Hodgkin.

Access Points

Oxford Enzyme Group



Richards | Rex | b. 1922 | Chemist

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