Frederick Gowland Hopkins Biography (1861-1947)


Born in Sussex, England, Hopkins had a lonely and unhappy childhood. He was brought up by his widowed mother and an unmarried uncle who tended to ignore him. When Hopkins was seventeen, his uncle chose a career in insurance for himand for several years he dutifully gave in to his uncle's wishes. At the same time, however, he also took part-time courses in chemistry at the University of London, eventually getting his degree. In 1888, already twenty-seven years old, Hopkins received the small inheritance that finally enabled him to enter medical school at Guy's Hospital in London.

After getting his doctoral degree in 1894, Hopkins joined the staff of Guy'sHospital and taught for several years. In 1898, he was invited to teach physiology and anatomy at Cambridge University and it was at Cambridge--when Hopkins was well into his thirties--that his long, distinguished career really began.

Hopkins' early research was in uric acid and his studies of the effects of various diets on uric acid excretion first aroused his interest in proteins. In1901, working with S.W. Cole, a student at Cambridge, Hopkins discovered tryptophan, an important amino acid, and was able to isolate it from protein. Afew years later, he demonstrated that tryptophan, and certain other amino acids, could not be manufactured in the body from other nutrients but had to besupplied as such in the diet. (By so doing, he laid the foundation for the concept of the essential amino acid outlined by William Rose a generation later.)

After his work with tryptophan, Hopkins' primary interest became the study ofdiet and its effect on metabolism. At the time, nutritional science was in afairly primitive stage. Most researchers confidently believed that a well-rounded diet consisted of the proper mixture of fats, proteins, carbohydrates,mineral salts, and water, and that the so-called diet-linked illnesses--suchas beriberi or scurvy--were caused by some toxic substance in certain foodstuffs. Hopkins, studying the literature--including reports by Christiaan Eijkman that polished rice seemed to cause beriberi, while unpolished rice effecteda cure--began to have serious doubts.

Hopkins had already noticed that his laboratory rats failed to grow on a dietof artificial nutrients, but grew rapidly when he added tiny amounts of cow's milk to their daily rations. He suspected, therefore, that normal food mustcontain substances missing from the pure fats, proteins and carbohydrates routinely used--for consistency--in nutritional studies. Terming these substances "accessory food factors," he pointed out that they appeared to be necessary for growth. His two papers on the subject, in 1906 and 1912, are consideredthe first explanations of the concept of vitamins.

In 1907, Hopkins and Sir Walter Fletcher conducted pioneering research in another area of biochemistry when they demonstrated that working muscles accumulate lactic acid. And in 1922, Hopkins isolated the tripeptide (triple-linked)enzyme, glutathione, from living tissue and demonstrated its importance to the utilization of oxygen by tissue cells.

For his pioneering work in vitamin research, Hopkins received the 1929 NobelPrize in medicine or physiology (sharing the prize with Eijkman). He was knighted in 1925 and received numerous other awards, including the Royal Medal ofthe Royal Society of London in 1918 and the Copley Medal in 1926.

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