Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and the nature of life
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a biochemist, followed a lifelong pursuit to understand the nature of life. He received the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “for his discoveries in connection with biological combustion processes, with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid.” His work, carried out in Holland, England, and his native Hungary during the 1920s and 30s, was initiated by his interest in the dispute between Otto Warburg and Heinrick Wieland as to whether hydrogen or oxygen needs to be activated for respiration. He showed that both are needed, that both processes take place. His observations on the oxidative blackening process in a cut piece of potato led him to isolate hexuronic acid, mainly from adrenal glands. After his return to Hungary in 1932, he isolated it from red pepper and paprika, proved it to be Vitamin C, and coined its name, ascorbic acid (AA), for its antiscorbutic action. Rather than continuing with research on Vitamin C, he pursued his interest in biological oxidation. In his studies on C4-dicarboxylic acid, (including fumaric acid) he elucidated the role of H transfer and O2 utilization involving dehydrogenases and cytochrome oxidase.1 This discovery later served as the basis for the Hans Krebs citric acid cycle of respiration.