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Hopkins, Sir Frederick Gowland

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(1861–1947) British biochemist: made first general scientific study of vitamins.

Hopkins believed firmly that chemical reactions in living cells, although complex, are understandable in normal chemical and physical terms. This faith, and his amiable forcefulness, made him ‘the father of British biochemistry’. His beginnings were not indicative of his future fame. His widowed mother chose a career for him at 17, in an insurance office. Later he worked as an analyst, especially on forensic cases. When he was 27 he inherited some money and entered the medical school at Guy’s Hospital and after qualifying worked with founder of biochemical genetics. At 37 he went to Cambridge, but his teaching load was so great that his health broke down in 1910. He recovered fully, and his college (Trinity) then gave him a research post. Recovered in health, and almost 50, he began the work for which he is famous, on ‘accessory food factors’ (vitamins), and in 1914 became the first professor of biochemistry in Cambridge. His classic studies on nutrition showed that young rats failed to grow on a diet of pure protein, carbohydrate, fat, salts and water; but the addition of small amounts of milk (2–3 ml per rat per day) caused them to thrive. The ‘vitamin hypothesis’ followed, as did much work on vitamins in Cambridge and elsewhere. Hopkins worked also on the biochemistry of muscle, on enzymes, on -SH groups and on glutathione. He shared a Nobel Prize with in 1929.

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