Nobel and beyond

Just four years after the vitamin C discovery, Szent-Györgyi received the Nobel Prize for his seminal work. That year, in 1937, the deliberations in the Nobel Committee centered on whether the Prize should go to Szent-Györgyi alone or be shared with several other scientists who had conducted similar work. In the end, the Prize was given to Szent-Györgyi alone, but the deliberations were reportedly long and acrimonious.

Szent-Györgyi went on to identify and study actin and myosin, proteins responsible for muscle contraction, and demonstrated that the compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the immediate source of energy necessary for muscle contraction. He later carried out additional studies of citrus fruits, identifying vitamin P and postulating its function as strengthening capillary blood vessels.

Szent-Györgyi then turned to the study of organic compounds known to play a part in the breakdown of carbohydrates to carbon dioxide, water, and other substances necessary for the production of usable energy by the cell. His work laid the foundation for Sir Hans Krebs' explanation of what later would be known as the Krebs cycle: the three-stage process by which living cells break down organic molecules in the presence of oxygen to harvest the energy required for growth and division.

In 1947, Szent-Györgyi immigrated to the United States, where he assumed the directorship of the Institute for Muscle Research in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. There he investigated the causes of cell division and the root causes of cancer. He was an accomplished and prolific author, producing among other works "The Crazy Ape" (1970), a passionate commentary on science and the prospects for human survival on Earth. Albert Szent-Györgyi died on October 22, 1986.

Written by James Schultz

Photos of Szent-Györgyi from The Marine Biological Laboratory/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Library

 

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