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Sidney W. Fox

Sidney Walter Fox (24 March 1912 - 10 August 1998) was a Los Angeles-born biochemist responsible for unique discoveries in the autosynthesis of protocells.


Education and early career

Fox completed his undergraduate studies in chemistry at UCLA. After a brief stint working as a technician for Max Bergmann at the Rockefeller Institute and UCLA, he returned to California to complete a PhD at Caltech. During Fox's studies at Caltech, he worked with Hugh Huffman, T.H. Morgan, and as a postdoc under Linus Pauling.

During World War II, Fox participated in work to isolate vitamin A from shark livers; the compound was used to enhance the night vision of pilots. In 1941 he established a protein chemistry laboratory at the University of Michigan medical school; in 1942 he researched fish meal protein for an Oakland company. In 1943 he published a review article that lay the foundation for protein sequencing and synthesis.


In 1943 Fox was granted his first academic position at Iowa State College.

In 1955 Fox assumed the directorship of the Oceanographic Institute at Florida State University. Shortly thereafter he published–with Joseph Foster—his first textbook.

Beginning in 1964, Fox served as director of the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Evolution (IMCE) at the University of Miami. During this time, his laboratory was involved in studying some of the first moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions.

After more than three decades in Florida, Fox moved to Southern Illinois University in 1989, and then on to the University of South Alabama in 1993.


Arguably Sidney Fox's best-known research was conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, when he studied the spontaneous formation of protein structures. His early work demonstrated that under certain conditions amino acids could spontaneously form small peptides—the first step on the road to the assembly of large proteins. The result was significant because his experimental conditions duplicated conditions that might plausibly have existed early in Earth's history.

Further work revealed that these amino acids and small peptides could be encouraged to form closed spherical membranes, called microspheres. Fox has gone so far as to describe these formations as protocells, protein spheres that could grow and reproduce. They might be an important intermediate step in the origin of life. Microspheres might have served as a stepping stone between simple organic compounds and genuine living cells.


In 1937, Fox married Raia Joffe; they remained together until his death. They have three sons: Lawrence, Ronald, and Thomas.


  • Sidney W. Fox and Joseph F. Foster. Introduction to Protein Chemistry. Wiley, 1957.
  • Fox, S.W., 1965. Simulated natural experiments in spontaneous organization of morphological units from protenoid. In The Origins of Prebiological Systems and Their Molecular Matrices, S.W. Fox (ed), New York: Academic Press, pp. 361-382.
  • Fox, S.W., 1980. The origins of behavior in macromolecules and protocells. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 67B: 423-436
  • Fox, S.W., 1988. The Emergence of Life: Davwinian Evolution from the Inside. New York: Basic Books.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sidney_W._Fox". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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