William Cumming Rose and Amino Acids

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Noyes Laboratory:
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The Illinois State Water Survey

Chemists and Chemistry at Noyes:
Roger Adams:
"The Chief"
Ludwig F. Audrieth and Synthetic Sweeteners
John C. Bailar Jr. and Coordination Chemistry
St. Elmo Brady: Pioneer
George L. Clark and High-Intensity X-Ray Tubes
Willis H. Flygare and Microwave Spectrometry
Reynold C. Fuson: Teaching Chemistry
Herbert S. Gutowsky and NMR Spectroscopy
B. Smith Hopkins and the Chemistry of Rare Earths
Henry Fraser Johnstone and the Study of Air Pollution
Herbert A. Laitinen and Analytical Chemistry
Carl "Speed" Marvel: Advances in Polymer Chemistry
William A. Noyes: The Department Comes of Age
Arthur W. Palmer: The Early Years
Samuel W. Parr and Applied Chemistry
Charles C. Price III and Antimalarials
Worth H. Rodebush and Physical Chemistry
William C. Rose and Amino Acids
George F. Smith and the Aerosol Can
Harold R. Snyder and Antimalarials
Marion Sparks and Chemical Information

Landmark Designation

William Cumming Rose entered graduate school at the age of 19 when he enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. Four years later he received his Ph.D. under L. B. Mendel with a study that was part of a series on the origin of creatine and creatinine. Rose occupied several academic posts before accepting a position at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston where he organized a department of biochemistry. In 1922 Rose moved to the University of Illinois as professor of physiological chemistry. In 1936 the title was changed to professor of biochemistry. Until his retirement in 1955 Rose trained many future biochemists in addition to his work as a pioneer in biochemistry and nutritional science.

Rose displayed a gift as a researcher for meticulous experimentation. His early work on creatine and its dehydration product, creatinine, dealt with the role of carbohydrates in the metabolism of those compounds and with the effect of inanition (the loss of vitality that results from the lack of food and water) on the creatine content of muscle. In his continuing research in this area Rose explored the metabolic relationship of creatine to creatinine and of both to other nitrogenous substances.

In the 1930s Rose undertook experiments that introduced the idea of an essential amino acid into nutrition in both human and rodent diets. Nutritionists had known for a long time that rats fed on a diet in which the only protein was zein, which is found in corn, would inevitably die. Rose worked with the constituent amino acids rather than proteins. He still found, however, that the rats died regardless of the combination of amino acids he tried. But if the milk protein casein was added to their diet, the ailing rats recovered.

Rose concluded that casein must contain an unknown amino acid not found in zein that was essential to life. In a long series of experiments extracting and testing various fragments of casein, Rose discovered threonine, the essential amino acid that provided a satisfactory diet for rodents when added to other amino acids. In addition, Rose structurally analyzed threonine and showed that it is not synthesized by the body but must be obtained from the diet. Rose proved that different amino acids are essential for different organisms.

Rose argued that if there were one essential amino acid, there could well be others. Over the years, he manipulated the rodent diet to establish the primary importance of ten amino acids: lysine, tryptophan, histidine, phenylalanine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, valine, and arginine in addition to the newly discovered threonine.

In the 1940s Rose undertook a ten-year research project on the human diet, including the nutritive properties of amino acids. Most significantly, Rose investigated the role of proteins in metabolism and the metabolic interrelationships among amino acids. This work led to the determination of amino acid requirements for humans.

Rose received many honors during his long and productive life. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1936 and received the National Medal of Science in 1966. Davidson College, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois accorded Rose honorary doctor of science degrees. Rose also received the Willard Gibbs Medal from the American Chemical Society in 1952 and the Charles F. Spencer Medal, also of the ACS, in 1957.


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