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Kazimierz Funk Creates The Concept Of A Vitamin

Who:Kazimierz Funk
When: 1912
How: By experimenting with pigeons and brown rice extracts to discover that something in the rice prevents beri-beri

After reading an article by the Dutchman Christiaan Eijkman that indicated people eating brown rice were less vulnerable to beri-beri than those who ate only the fully milled product, Kazimierz Funk tried to isolate the substance responsible. After much experimentation he succeeded in isolating the substance in 1912. Because that substance contained an amine group, Funk called it a vitamine (vitamin). It was later to be known as vitamin B1 (Thiamine). Funk put forward the hypothesis that other diseases, like rickets, pellagra, sprue, and scurvy could also be cured by vitamins. The "e" at the end of vitamine was later removed when it was realised that vitamins need not be nitrogen containing amines.

Funk later postulated the existence of other essential nutrients, which became known as B1, B2, C, and D. In 1936 he determined the molecular structure of thiamin, though he was not the first to isolate it. However, Funk was the first to isolate nicotinic acid (also called niacin or vitamin B3).

In addition to nutrition, Funk also conducted research into hormones, diabetes, ulcers, and the biochemistry of cancer.

The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA) annually honors Polish-American scientists with the Casimir Funk Natural Sciences Award. Past winners include Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, Alexander Wolszczan, Hilary Koprowski, Peter T. Wolczanski, Waclaw Szybalski and Benoit Mandelbrot.

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  1. Harow, Benjamin CASIMIR FUNK-Pioneer in Vitamins and Hormones . Dodd, Mead & Company, New York,N. Y., 1955. 209 pages.


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