Proteins and Sugars
Proteins, most especially enzymes, and sugars are among the most important biomolecules investigated since the 1800s. While 19th-century chemists like Emil Fischer could only imagine how these molecules function in the body, scientists in the 20th and 21st centuries have had access to increasingly sophisticated instruments for studying these molecules, which are essential to building and nourishing our bodies and virtually every other bodily process.
Leonor Michaelis and Maud Leonora Menten published their seminal work on enzymes—almost all of which are proteins—in 1912. Their research cast new light on these complex compounds that make possible the chemical reactions of life.
Carl Ferdinand and Gerty Theresa Cori identified the cyclical process that muscle cells use to make and store energy. Understanding this process of sugar metabolism is particularly important for treating diabetes.
Mildred Cohn transformed the study of enzymes by aiming high-tech instruments at them. She helped pioneer the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and instruments like NMR spectrometers, which enabled her to study how enzymes behave during chemical reactions in the body.
Marie Maynard Daly overcame the dual hurdles of racial and gender bias to conduct important studies on cholesterol, sugars, and proteins. In addition to her research she was committed to developing programs to increase the enrollment of minority students in medical school and graduate science programs.
Reinhold and Ruth Erica Benesch made a key discovery that helped explain how hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, carries oxygen from the lungs to all the cells in the body.
Jane S. Richardson is best known for her amazing portraits of proteins, which make sense of masses of X-ray crystallography data by showing proteins as intertwined ribbons. Richardson’s graphics are the standard for depicting proteins, helping scientists understand how these biomolecules work and how to build them.
Judith P. Klinman studies how proteins and enzymes do everything from letting our bodies use oxygen to regulating neurotransmitters. She looks for the fundamental properties that underlie these reactions.
Susan S. Taylor and her team at the University of California, San Diego, explore the structures of enzymes that control the bodily changes taking place over a lifetime, such as the enzymes that stimulate memory and growth. Her work is clearing a path to new drugs that can fight disease.
Laura Kiessling, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, studies the protein interactions that may give rise to the complexity that differentiates species from one another.
Carolyn Bertozzi, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, helped develop artificial bones that mimic the chemistry of real bones, making them less likely to be rejected by the human body.