Torbjörn Caspersson

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Torbjörn Caspersson
Born(1910-10-15)15 October 1910
Died7 December 1997(1997-12-07) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of Stockholm,
Known forNucleic acids
AwardsBjörkénska priset (1945)
Balzan Prize (1979)
William Allan Award (1988)
Scientific career

Torbjörn Oskar Caspersson (15 October 1910 – 7 December 1997) was a Swedish cytologist and geneticist. He was born in Motala and attended the University of Stockholm, where he studied medicine and biophysics.

Caspersson made several key contributions to biology.

  • In the 1934 he and Einar Hammarsten showed that DNA was a polymer. Previous theories suggested that each molecule was only ten nucleotides long.
  • He provided William Astbury with well prepared samples of DNA for Astbury's pioneering structural measurements.
  • In 1936, in his doctoral thesis in chemistry, presented at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, he first studied genetic material inside a cell with an ultraviolet microscope to determine the nucleic acid content of cellular structures such as the nucleus and nucleolus using the Feulgen reaction to stain the DNA.
  • He worked with Jack Schultz in Stockholm from 1937–1939 on protein synthesis is cells and published the work in 1939, where he independent of Jean Brachet, working out the same problem using a different technique, found that cells making proteins are rich in ribonucleic acids RNA, implying that RNA is required to make proteins. This was summarised in his book 'Cell Growth and Cell Function' (1950).
  • He received a personal professorship from the Swedish state in 1944.
  • He became head of the newly created department for cell research and genetics at the Medical Nobel Institute, at the Karolinska, in 1945.
  • He was the first to study the giant chromosomes found in insect larvae.
  • He studied the role of the nucleolus in protein synthesis.
  • He examined the relationship between the quantity of heterochromatin (chromosomes with few genes) and the rate of growth of cancer cells.
  • In 1969 when working at the Karolinska Institute, he (with Lore Zech) found that a stain (quinacrine mustard) caused chromosomes to show light and dark lateral bands along their length. This banding method permits the accurate identification of all 22 autosomes and the X and Y chromosomes. This technique highlighted slight structural abnormalities and specific identification of the extra chromosomes involved in conditions such as Down's syndrome (see also cytogenetics).

In 1977 he retired as head of the medical cell research and genetics department at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm

In 1979 Caspersson was awarded the Balzan Prize for Biology "For his fundamental studies on protein metabolism and nucleic acids, culminating in a method for identifying specific bands on individual chromosomes by ultraviolet microscopy, thereby creating a new tool for the study of evolution" (motivation of the Balzan General Prize Committee).


  • Hagemann, Rudolf (2007). "[The Watson-Crick model of the DNA doublehelix. The history of the discovery and the role of the protein paradigm]". Acta Historica Leopoldina (48): 113–58. PMID 18447191.
  • Klein, George; Klein Eva (March 2003). "Torbjörn Caspersson, 15 October 1910 – 7 December 1997". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 147 (1): 73–5. JSTOR 1558129. PMID 12962132.
  • Reichard, Peter (April 2002). "Osvald T. Avery and the Nobel Prize in medicine". J. Biol. Chem. 277 (16): 13355–62. doi:10.1074/jbc.R200002200. PMID 11872756.
  • Zelenin, A V; Zoshchuk N V (2000). "[The history of modern chromosome analysis. The founding contribution of the works of Caspersson]". Ontogenez. 31 (2): 152–60. PMID 10776643.
  • Gustavson, K H (December 1999). "[New milestones in the history of genetics. Successful gene therapy can soon be a reality]". Lakartidningen. 96 (51–52): 5764–8. PMID 10643263.
  • Ruddle, F H (April 1989). "Tribute to Torbjörn Caspersson". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 44 (4): 439–40. PMC 1715562. PMID 2648818.
  • Klein, G; Klein E (July 1984). "Torbjörn Caspersson: some personal perspectives". Cytometry. 5 (4): 318. doi:10.1002/cyto.990050405. PMID 6380993.
  • Mayall, B H (July 1984). "Torbjörn Oskar Caspersson: curriculum vitae and selected publications". Cytometry. 5 (4): 314–7. doi:10.1002/cyto.990050404. PMID 6380992.
  • Bahr, G F (June 1984). "Torbjörn Oscar Caspersson, M.D., F.I.A.C.: 75 years". Analytical and Quantitative Cytology. 6 (2): 71–3. PMID 6380366.
  • Kempe, C (February 1980). "[The Balzan-Prize: Detailed studies of chromosomes—a diagnostic revolution]". Lakartidningen. 77 (7): 503–4. PMID 6990136.
  • Müller, J H (1976). "[Laudation of the prize winners of the Paul-Ehrlich and Ludwig-Darmstaedter award 1977 Torbjörn Caspersson and Jean Bertrand Gurdon]". Arbeiten aus dem Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, dem Georg-Speyer-Haus und dem Ferdinand-Blum-Institut zu Frankfurt A.M. (72): 23–6. PMID 802159.

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