Hopkins Sir Frederick Gowland 18611947 Considered the founder of British biochemistry

B orn in Sussex, England, as a child, Hopkins showed an exclusive interest in science, in particular chemistry, which continued for the rest of his life. Hopkins became the first Professor of Biochemistry at Cambridge in 1914. He pioneered the study and application of what he termed accessory food factors, which are now referred to as vitamins. In addition to his work on vitamins, Hopkins also pioneered the study of cell metabolism. One of his earliest contributions to biochemistry was the technique he used to detect the presence of uric acid in urine. He also studied the role of amino acids arginine and histidine in nutrition. This discovery showed him that it is the presence of differing amino acids, which creates the nutritional quality of proteins.

Through further experimentation with rats, Hopkins realized that accessory food factors (vitamins) were also playing a role in nutrition and growth. After isolating specific vitamins, Hopkins concluded that such diseases as rachitis, or rickets, and scurvy, occurred when food lacked certain vitamins. In 1912, Hopkins published, "Feeding Experiments Illustrating the Importance of Accessory Food Factors in Normal Dietaries," which is generally regarded as the most important piece of early literature on vitamins. Hopkins' nutritional theories were contested by colleagues until 1920, but since then have been considered indisputable. During the 1920s, Hopkins experimented with biological oxidations, finding the first clues that intermediate oxygen transportation possibly occurs in living tissues. At the time, the theory was new and queried, but today it is a well-established fundamental fact in the field of biological oxidation. In 1929, Hopkins won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for his work in nutrition, which set the stage for those who followed him in nutritional science.

In particular, his 1932 Gluckstein Lecture on "Chemistry and Life" presented a scientific approach to the biochemistry of "living systems [that] should sometimes occupy the thought of every chemist" (Hopkins 1933: 3). This view, based on Hopkins' understanding of the complexity of nature, placed living organisms again into the realm of biochemistry, which had, by the 1930s, begun to see itself as concerned with the molecular level and as a science separate from any explanation of how actual systems work in living organisms. This return to the world of origin of biochemistry in the laboratories of Justus von Liebig (1803-73) meant a focus on processes such as metabolism in plants and animals (Hopkins 1933: 5). Liebig had begun with an understanding of how such processes were carried out, and Hopkins wished to return to this earlier model. Diet, the "intensive studies of plant and animal products," meant a return to the science that created the modern concern with diet. We now "know that the consumption of so much protein, fat and carbohydrate lead to the excretion of so much urea and so much carbon dioxide." But this tells us "nothing of that succession of complex events intervening between consumption and excretion, which it is the business of the biochemist to understand" (Hopkins 1933: 5). This, he pointed out in 1932, is the goal of biochemistry looking at the "intact and living body" (Hopkins 1933: 6).

SLG/Laura K. Goldstein

See also Metabolism

References and Further Reading

Anon. (1998) "Frederick Gowland Hopkins, Sir," in Paula K. Byers (ed.), Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edn, seventeen volumes, Detroit, Mich.: Thompson Gale. Available online at <http:// www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=i529200> (accessed June 23, 2007). Hopkins, Frederick Gowland (1933) "Chemistry and Life," Gluckstein Memorial Lecture, 4, London: Institute of Chemistry. Lerner, Lee and Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth (2002)

"Frederick Gowland Hopkins," World of Anatomy and Physiology, two vols, Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group. Available online at <http://www.bookrags.com/ browse/World% 20of% 20Anatomy% 20and-%20Physiology> (accessed June 23, 2007).

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  • hildigard
    Which british biochemist first found the presence of vitamins in food?
    3 years ago

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