Ingram, Vernon


Vernon Ingram (1924–2006) was a protein biochemist who spent his career studying the causes and impacts of misshapen proteins, and their relevance to human disease. Ingram is best known for his 1957 demonstration that the abnormal haemoglobin in sickle cell anaemia patients is caused by an alteration in one amino acid, which results from a single nucleotide mutation in the DNA code. This finding provided further evidence supporting Francis Crick's ‘Central Dogma’ of molecular biology and earned Ingram the widespread designation as the ‘father of molecular medicine’. Ingram's initial work on haemoglobin was conducted under Max Perutz in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. Soon thereafter, Ingram moved to MIT, where he spent the remainder of his career working on other blood disorders and Alzheimer's disease.

Key Concepts

  • Ingram demonstrated in 1957 that sickle cell anaemia is caused by one amino acid change in the haemoglobin protein, resulting from one DNA nucleotide alteration.
  • Ingram's haemoglobin studies supported Francis Crick's ‘Central Dogma’ of molecular biology.
  • Ingram's haemoglobin studies demonstrated that a one‐dimensional change in the DNA code resulted in the mutant form of a protein.
  • Ingram's haemoglobin studies undercut the hypothesis that DNA code exists in overlapping units.
  • Ingram's haemoglobin studies provided the first demonstration of a specific change in the DNA, causing a disease that followed a Mendelian inheritance pattern.

Keywords: haemoglobin; sickle cell anaemia; biochemistry; protein; molecular biology; molecular medicine


de Chadarevian S (1996) Sequences, conformation, information: biochemists and molecular biologists in the 1950s. Journal of the History of Biology 29 (3): 361–386.

Davis TH (2004) Biography of Vernon M. Ingram. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101 (40): 14323–14325.

Ingram VM (2004) Sickle‐cell anemia hemoglobin: the molecular biology of the first “Molecular Disease” – the crucial importance of serendipity. Genetics 167 (1): 1–7.

Strasser BJ (1999) Sickle cell anemia, a molecular disease. Science 286 (5444): 1488–1490.

Strasser BJ (2006) A world in one dimension: Linus Pauling, Francis Crick and the central dogma of molecular biology. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28 (4): 491–512.

Further Reading

de Chadarevian S (2002) Designs for Life: Molecular Biology After World War II. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

García‐Sancho M (2010) A new insight into Sanger's development of sequencing: from proteins to DNA, 1943–1977. Journal of the History of Biology 43 (2): 265–323.

Ingram VM (1957) Gene mutations in human haemoglobin: the chemical difference between normal and sickle cell haemoglobin. Nature 180 (4581): 326–328.

Morange M (2006) The protein side of the central dogma: permanence and change. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28 (4): 513–524.

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Hogan, Andrew J(Mar 2015) Ingram, Vernon. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0006246]