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Writing to Carl Cori, and crystallised insulin


Theorell's lab: Carl and Gerty Cori
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Besides Britton Chance there were several other very... I mean, very good biochemists in... in that lab... Jack Buchanan came from Harvard and he was an expert in purine chemistry... pure biosynthesis. There was a man called Ralph Holman from Minnesota, who was a lipid specialist, and there was Chris Anfinsen, who also was a Nobel laureate... I forget exactly when; and Theorell himself, of course, got the Nobel Prize in 1955 for his work, so that was all very exciting. But I wanted, eventually, to get back to insulin, and so naively again I decided the best... the best lab for me to work on insulin would be in the United States – St. Louis, Missouri, the lab of Carl and Gerty Cori. Carl and Gerty Cori in the '20s and the '30s were really the great experts in carbohydrate metabolism, and they had discovered phosphorylase and glycogen metabolism and so on. So they were really major figures in that field ... also very powerful because Carl was the editor of the JBC – the Journal of Biological Chemistry... more or less decided what was going to be published and what was not going to be published. Anyway, Carl and Gerty Cori belonged to the other group. I mentioned at the beginning the big controversy between the liver... the partisans of the liver and the muscles, with respect to the action of insulin, and Carl and Gerty believed that insulin not only did not favour glucose uptake by the liver but actually favoured the... the delivery of glucose by the liver into the bloodstream and favoured uptake by the muscles, and the theory was that under the influence of insulin the muscles would... or the peripheral tissues would consume more glucose and the extra glucose would be provided by glycogenolysis from the liver. That was their theory. And so rather naively... very naively, I said, ‘Well, you know, I have to confront the lion in his den, so I'm going to go to St. Louis, and I'll... I’ll tell Carl and Gerty they were wrong and convert them to the true theory.’ So I wrote to... I should say that I had written quite a number of papers by then, in French, but with Bouckaert I had written one review, in English, of all our work on insulin which had appeared in physiological reviews in... for... just about that time.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: 1920s, 1930s, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Joseph Bouckaert, Jack Buchanan, Ralph Holman, Chris Anfinsen, Hugo Theorell, Carl Cori, Gerty Cori

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008