Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Corneille Jean Francois Heymans

Corneill Jean Francois Heymans was born on March 28,1892 in Ghent, Belgium. His father J. F. Heymans, was a professor and rector at the University of Ghent and founded the J. F. Heymans Institute for Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the university.

Heymans attended St. Lieven's College in Ghent, St. Jozef's College in Tunhout and St. Barbara's College in Ghent. He got his medical education at the University of Ghent, graduating in 1920. After finishing his doctorate he began a tour, doing research at a number of universities including the College de France Paris, the University of Lausanne, the University of Vienna, the University College of London, and Case Western Medical School. In 1822 he returned to the University of Ghent where he took a position as Lecturer in Pharmocodynamics. In 1930 he succeeded his father as Pharmacology and Head of the Department of Parmacology, Pharmacodynamics, and Toxicology, also becoming director of the J. F. Heymans institute.

A prolific author, Heymans has published numerous papers, at first collaborating with his father. His research focused on the physiology and pharmacology of respiration, blood circulation, metabolism and pharmacological problems. Building on the anatomic studies of Fernando de Castro, Heymans determined that nerve receptors in the carotid body (glomus caroticum) respond to chemical signals. These receptors, located in the fork of the carotid artery (which runs along both sides of the neck) respond to the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, and also pH. Signals from these receptors work in conjunction with the brain stem to regulate breathing rate. When these receptors detect high carbon dioxide and/or low pH they act to increase the breath rate of the lungs, thus moving more oxygen into the system. For his work in discovering the effects of these nerve receptors Heymans was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1938.

From 1953 to 1963 he worked for the World Health Organization. He retired in 1963, becoming a Professor Emeritus.

Heymans died on July 18, 1968.


de Castro, Fernando; "Towards the Sensory Nature of the Carotid Body: Hering, de Castro, and Heymans"; Frontiers in Neuroanatomy(2009) 3:23

Proctor, Donald F.; "A History of Breathing Physiology"; Informa Healthcare, 1995

Corneille Heymans Nobel Biography

Corneille Heymans at nndb.com

Sunday, March 21, 2010

David Keilin

David Keilin was born on March 21, 1887 in Moscow, Russia, the son of Polish parents. His father was a small businessman and a landowner. One of his earliest memories was the return of his family to Warsaw. Because of his poor health and suffering from asthma he was taught at home by a governess and did not attend school until he was ten years old. He attended the Gorski School, a private school, until he was seventeen, showing an aptitude for literature, mathematics and languages. In 1904 Keilin went to the University of Leige in Belgum where he completed a two year program in natural sciences in one year. Advised that with his poor health would not be able to stand the strain of medical studies in 1905 he moved to Paris, where he read books at the Bibliotheque St. Genevieve and attended philosophy lectures at the College de France.

It was a chance encounter with Professor Maurice Caullery that began his career in biology. One afternoon, in order to get out of the rain, Keilin found himself in a building in which Caullery was lecturing. He was impressed with the lecture and began attending the class three times a week, thus began his life long friendship with Caullery. It was Caullery who offered him a position at the Laboratorie d'Evolution and urged him to enroll at the Sorbonne, where Keilin began classes in zoology, geology, botany, and embryology. Keilin quickly became not only a expert laboratory researcher but also a avid field biologist. In 1915 Keilin earned his doctorate with a thesis on the biology of Diptera larvae.

In 1915 he accepted the invitation of G. H. F. Nuthall to become a research assistant in medical entomology at the Quick Laboratory at Cambridge. In 1916 he was appointed Assistant to the Quick Professor and became affiliated with Magdalene College, an affiliation that lasted throughout his life. Although initially the conditions under which he worked were cramped, several workers sharing the same small laboratory, Keilin found the group congenial. In 1921 conditions improved when the Quick Laboratory moved in to the newly built Molento institute.

Keilin's early work (up until 1920) largely dealt with descriptive biology and morphology. After 1920 his work became more experimental. Between 1922 and 1924 Keilin was studying the life cycle of the horse bot fly (Gasterophilus intestinalis) and observed that the red coloring of the larval stage disappears in later stages. After preforming direct-vision spectroscopy on these pigments he found that the two banded pattern of the larval stage becomes a four banded pattern in the adult fly. He observed the same four banded pattern in other insects, yeast and bacteria. In 1924, when working with a suspension of yeast dissolved in water, he observed that the four banded pattern disappeared when the suspension was shaken and then slowly reappeared. It was this observation and the fact that the disappearance was inhibited by cyanide (an inhibitor of oxidation) that allowed him to conclude that the pigments he was studying were being oxidized by atmospheric oxygen and then re-reduced.

Keilin called the proteins that have these pigments cytochromes. Although these pigments had been observed before, it was Keilin who elucidated their importance in the production of cellular energy. These are the enzymes, located on the inner membrane of the mitochondria, which while transporting electrons build the proton gradient that is used to produce ATP (for a review of cytochrome function in the electron transport chain see here). Keilin spent the rest of his career researching cytochromes and elucidating their function.

In 1931 Keilin succeeded Nuthall as Professor and Director of the Molento Institute. In 1952, upon reaching the age of 65 Keilin retired from both posts, but continued active research until his death. Keilin was appointed the the Royal Society in 1928 and he was awarded the Copley Medal in 1952.

Keilin died on February 27, 1963.


"Obituary Notice: David Keilin (1887-1963)"; Journal of General Microbiology (1966)45:159-185

Hartree, E. F.; "Obituary Notice: David Keilin (1887-1963)"; Biochemistry Journal (1963) 89:b2-5

Slater, E. C.; "Keilin, Cytochrome, and the Respiratory Chain"; Journal of Biological Chemistry (2003) 278:16455-16461

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton

Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton was born on March 14, 1844 in Bowden, Roxburghshire (in Scotland, near the English border) to James Brunton and his wife Agnes. There are conflicting accounts of his early education, some saying he studied privately and others that he studied at the parish school and then a school at Melrose. He went to Edinburgh University where at his father's urging he began to study law. Taking classes in chemistry and physics in his spare time he soon became so interested in them that he changed his focus. He qualified in 1866, taking the M.B, C.M.Edin. degree with honors and M.D. in 1868 with honors for his thesis on "Digitalis, with some observations on the urine". For a year (1866-67) he served as house physician at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.
After his education he went abroad, intending to visit places mentioned in the story of Joseph from the Bible, visiting Egypt and Syria. He continued his travels visiting Turkey, Greece and Italy. he went to Vienna, where he did laboratory work on digitalis (he never published his results), Berlin, where he analyzed the nuclei of blood cells, Amsterdam and Leipzig where he was one of the first students to be admitted to Carl Ludwig's new institution. It was there that he worked studying arterioles and capillaries making experiments on the effects of amyl nitrate and sodium nitrate. It is the use of amyl nitrate for the relief of angina pectoris that he is chiefly remembered for (drawing on the work of Arthur Gamgee and Benjamin Ward Richardson). Inhaled amyl nitrate causes vasodilation in the coronary arteries and reduced systemic resistance to blood flow.
In 1870 Brunton was appointed lecturer on pharmacology and materia medica at Middlesex Hospital. The following year he was made casualty physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, were he would remain for thirty three years, four years as a casualty physician, twenty as an assistant physician and nine as a physician, retiring before he reached the age of sixty-five so that younger men might have the chance to be promoted. He spent much of his time at St. Bartholomew's conducting research and producing papers on his studies of pharmacology. His most important work, the Textbook of Pharmacology, Therapeutics, and Materia Medica appeared in 1885. He had prepared a work on materia medica fifteen years previously, but had the printer suspend publication so that he could remove some redundancies and clear up some areas were further research was needed. The work was so riddled with these problems that he eventually decided to start over. His Textbook was well received, going through three editions in two years.
In addition to his scientific work Brunton was also a biblical scholar. His work, The Bible and Science was written to show, in a brief and popular way, that the Darwinian theory is not an atheistic theory, but is in correspondence with the biblical account of creation.
Brunton was made a fellow to the Royal Society in 1874. He was knighted in 1900 and made a baronet in 1908.
Brunton died on September 16th, 1908.
Thompson, W. B.; "Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, LL.D., M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.S."; The Border Magazine (1902) Vol. VII, No. 74, p. 41-43
"Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, BT., F.R.S." British Medical Journal (1916) V2(2908) p.440-442
Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank was born on March 7, 1849 in Lancaster Massachusetts, the thirteenth of fifteen children born to Samuel Walton Burbank by three marriages. A slight child, he was very introverted, making friends with plants and carrying around a cactus plant like a doll. In school he was a good student and a good writer. While still a boy he began work in the shops of the Ames Plow Company, in which his uncle Luther Ross was in a position of authority. Luther worked half days in the shop and spent his afternoons among his uncle's seedling grapes and rhubarbs. Working in the factory he developed a labor saving device, for which he received a raise. His ill health forced him to leave the factory to work outdoors in the fields.

Making his living by raising crops he developed a potato, known as the Burbank potato, which was the first of hundreds of varieties of new plants which he developed. While working in the garden on day Luther developed a partial sunstroke, and it was due to his health he was forced to migrate west, moving to Santa Rosa, California in 1875, carrying with him ten of his potatoes. In Santa Rosa he was forced to seek work wherever he could find it, once taking work at a chicken ranch where he cleaned out chicken houses, and even sleeping in one. Hard work, exposure, and frequent lack of food brought on a fever which nearly killed him. Salvation came in the form of a kind lady who provided him with a pint of sweet milk a day. When he recovered from his illness he secured a position at a small nursery.

Burbank wanted to work on his own and he soon acquired a plot of land of his own on which he started his own nursery. Finally working for himself Burbank was able to fill the order of a man who wanted prune trees (which normally take two years to grow) in a shorter time the buyer demanded by inserting prune buds into almond plants. At his first opportunity he left the nursery business to become a plant breeder. From his small home in Santa Rosa, Burbank has created over eight hundred new varieties of plants (a partial list can be found here). Burbank's work earned him the nickname "the Wizard of Santa Rosa"

Burbank was not able to patent the plants he developed because the patent laws did not allow the patenting of plants until after his death. He was however granted sixteen patents after his death, after a law was passed allowing them. In 1986 he was inducted into the inventor's hall of fame.

Burbank died on April 11, 1926.


Evans, Lawton Bryan; Duncan, Luther Noble; Duncan, George William; Farm Life Readers, Book 4; Silver, Burdet & Company; 1916

Wickson, Edward James; Luther Burbank: Man, Method, and Achievements; Southern Pacific Company; 1904

Williams, Henry Smith; Luther Burbank: his life and work; Hearst's International Library Co, Inc.; 1915

Luther Burbank Wikipedia Entry

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