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Szent-Györgi, Albert von

muscle vitamin research hungarian

[sent dyoor dyee] (1893–1986) Hungarian-US biochemist: worked on vita-min C and on the biochemistry of muscle.

Szent-Györgi had four generations of scientists in his mother’s family, and in 1911 began to study medicine at Budapest. By 1914 he had already published some research on the eye before he was called into the Austro-Hungarian army. He was soon decorated for bravery but, in order to return to his studies, he shot himself in the arm. Later he was redrafted, but again proved an awkward soldier by protesting against the treatment of prisoners. As a result he was sent to a base in Northern Italy where a malaria epidemic was raging, but within weeks the war was over and he returned to complete his medical course. Afterwards he researched in five countries and received his PhD in Cambridge for work on vitamins with . Back in Hungary in the 1930s, he showed that vitamin C (the anti-scorbutic vitamin, ascorbic acid) was in fact a compound he had first isolated in Cambridge in 1928. He also showed that paprika (Hungarian red pepper) is a rich source of it; in 1937 he won the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology for his work on vitamin C. By 1935 he was working on the biochemistry of muscle; he began the work which was later developed by on the metabolism of muscle. He also isolated two proteins from muscle (myosin and actin) and showed that they combined to form actomyosin. When ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is added to fibres of this, it contracts. ‘Seeing this artificial bundle contract was the most exciting moment of my scientific career’, he wrote. This work was extended by .

He also had an exciting Second World War, working for the Allies and the underground resistance. Afterwards, he was offered the presidency of Hungary, but he emigrated to the USA in 1947 and directed muscle research at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. In the 1960s he worked on the thymus gland and on cancer, which had killed his wife and daughter. He was a man who had novel and daring research ideas; he ‘thought big’ and, a keen fisherman, claimed he liked to use an ‘extra-large hook’.

Szilard, Leo [next]

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