Celebrating 22 Years on the Web
TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY ®
Find science on or your birthday

107

Stories About Chemistry

INDEX

57. The Longest Reaction

Hundreds and thousands of the most complex organic compounds have been made by chemists in their laboratories during recent years. Some of them are so complex that it is no easy thing even to write their structural formulas on paper. It requires quite a lot of time in any case.

The greatest victory scored by organic chemists is unquestionably the synthesis of a protein molecule, of the molecule of one of the most important proteins.

We are referring to the chemical synthesis of insulin, the hormone which controls carbohydrate metabolism in the organism.

If we tried to tell you about the constitution of the insulin molecule, it would take us several pages. Remember that some of the details of structure of this protein molecule are still not very clear even to specialists in chemistry. Insulin is a real giant molecule, though the number of elements contained in it is rather limited. But they are arranged in very elaborate combinations.

And so, for the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the insulin molecule consists of two parts, or rather, two chains - chain A and chain B. These chains are bound to one another by means of what is called a disulphide bond. In other words, they are bridged, as it were, by a crosslink consisting of two sulphur atoms.

The plan for the general attack on insulin was as follows. First, chains A and B were to be synthesized separately. Then they were to be connected with a disulphide crosslink between them.

Now for some arithmetic. To produce chain A, the chemists had to perform almost a hundred different consecutive reactions. Chain B required more than a hundred. And so all this took many months of very painstaking work.

But finally both chains were obtained. Now they had to be connected. And this is where the main difficulties sprang up. Disappointment followed upon disappointment.

Nevertheless, one fine evening there appeared in the laboratory log the laconic statement: “The synthesis of the insulin molecule is fully accomplished.”

Scientists had to go through two hundred and twenty three consecutive stages to obtain insulin artificially. Just think of that figure: hitherto not a single known chemical compound had been so difficult to prepare. It had taken ten men almost three years of incessant work to do it…

But biochemists report a very curious thing: in a living cell the synthesis of protein takes... from two to three seconds.

Three years, or three seconds! How far more perfect is the synthesis apparatus of the living cell than that of today’s chemistry!


< back     next >

- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton


by Ian Ellis
who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.