King's College London
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The pioneering work of Professor Jean Hanson, 1919-1973

Collaboration with Dr Hugh Huxley, 1953-1954

group photo of large number of people on steps of a large building with classical columnsMIT (c1954)Hanson's work at MIT was in collaboration with Hugh Huxley. Huxley was a young Cambridge academic based in the Cavendish laboratories who for his PhD had employed an X-ray micro-camera to examine changes in diffraction patterns of fresh frog muscle fibre in various stages of relaxation and contraction.

This had produced interesting results and Huxley accounted for contraction by means of a process of depolymerisation of actin filaments in relation to the myosin.

Huxley believed the filaments underwent contraction from fixed points of cross-connection by an unknown substance - the dark banding at ninety degrees to the filaments that was observed in all muscle samples.

His results also significantly pointed to the operation of parallel protein fibres through the length of a myofibril.

photograph of a young woman and man standing within a large groupJean Hanson and Hugh Huxley at MIT, c1954Interestingly, Huxley's examiner, the distinguished academic, Dorothy Hodgkin, herself came close to a sliding filament explanation for muscle contraction whilst pouring over Huxley's electron density data en route for his viva in Cambridge.

Hodgkin recalled that on arriving at Cambridge, she went directly to the Cavendish Laboratories and bumping into Francis Crick halfway up the stairs, exclaimed excitedly that she knew how muscle contraction worked, interleafing the fingers of her hands to illustrate her point. She took the work no further.

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