Luis Federico Leloir was an Argentine physicist and biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1970. He obtained the award thanks to the research he carried out to study the processes carried out by the human body to convert carbohydrates into functional energy.
He worked for much of his career in labs with little funding. Even so, he was recognized by the international scientific community for his contributions. His main work was to investigate the behavior of sugar nucleotides, hypertension that is generated in human kidneys, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Luis Federico Leloir was born on September 6, 1906 in Paris, France. When he was only two years old, he moved his family to Argentina, where they had agricultural land that his great-grandparents had bought at a good price years ago.
The productive capacity of his family led them to have a significant amount of money, which allowed Leloir to dedicate himself to scientific research at a time when this was not common.
Furthermore, he was the only member of his family to have an interest in natural science. His father and brothers were mainly engaged in field activities, but the collection of scientific books in their home piqued Leloir’s interest from a very young age.
He enrolled at the University of Buenos Aires to study Medicine, a degree he obtained in 1932 after failing Anatomy on some occasions.
In 1934 he met Professor Bernardo Houssay, who aroused his interest in the functioning of the metabolism of carbohydrates and adrenaline.
Houssay won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and came to have a close relationship with Leloir. In fact, they worked together until Houssay’s death in 1971.
During his internships as a doctor he had some run-ins with his colleagues, so he decided to dedicate himself to scientific work in laboratories. After submitting his graduate thesis, he was recognized by the University of Buenos Aires for having produced the best doctoral thesis of his class.
In 1943 he married Amelia Zuberhuber, with whom he had his only daughter, whom he called by the same name as his wife.
He then worked as a researcher in the department of biochemistry at the prestigious University of Cambridge, before moving to the United States in 1944 and working at the universities of Missouri and Columbia.
He originally moved to England for more advanced study at Cambridge. There he performed laboratory work under the supervision of another Nobel Prize winner, Frederick Hopkins. At Cambridge, Leloir studied enzymes and the effect of cyanide on other chemical compounds.
His work at Cambridge led him to specialize in the study of carbohydrate metabolism in the human body.
When he returned to Argentina, he found himself in a rather daunting situation. His tutor and friend, Bernardo Houssay, had been expelled from the University of Buenos Aires after opposing the regime of the then president of Argentina and the Nazi movement in Germany.
When faced with this situation, he moved to the United States to work as an assistant in Missouri and Columbia. There he received the inspiration of the American biochemist David Ezra Green, which led him to establish his own institute in Argentina a few years later.
Return to Argentina
It was in 1947 that the opportunity to return to Argentina presented itself. She was offered special funding to found the Buenos Aires Institute of Biochemistry, where she studied the behavior of milk in the human body and how it processes it.
The research institute was named the Biochemical Research Institute of the Campomar Foundation, in honor of its founder Jaime Campomar. Leloir went on to direct this institute from 1947 until his death in 1987.
Research and Nobel Prize
Although it was chaired by Leloir himself, the laboratory did not have enough financial support from the founder to update the necessary equipment and keep the research current.
However, Leloir and his work group managed to discover various activities of the body that were not known until that time.
During his research, he realized that the body stores some substances in milk to later convert them into energy. This occurs in the nucleotides of sugar and it was this discovery that led to him winning the Nobel Prize in 1970.
In addition to the Nobel, Leloir received many additional awards recognizing his discovery, which he himself labeled as small, but which had incredibly significant repercussions for medicine.
During his last years of life, he left his post at the institute to dedicate himself to teaching, until he died in Buenos Aires on December 2, 1987.
One of his most revolutionary works (which led him to the discovery for which he obtained the Nobel) was to identify the chemical origin of the synthesis of sugar in yeast. In addition, he also studied the oxidation of fatty acids in the human liver.
Together with his work team – and particularly with Dr. Muñoz – he developed the first biological system without the composition of cells, which had never been previously achieved in the scientific community.
This invention challenged the scientific theory that a system could not function without the presence of cells. It was thought that if a cell separated from the system it was in, it would stop working as a result of cellular oxidation.
After this discovery and with a much more prepared work team, he developed a project through which the cause of hypertension was discovered when in the presence of a diseased kidney.
However, his most important discovery came in 1948. This was the discovery of the importance of sugar nucleotides in the metabolism of carbohydrates in the body.
- Luis Federico Leloir – Argentina Biochemist, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2008. Taken from britannica.com
- Luis Federico Leloir, Biography, (nd). Taken from biography.com
- The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1970 – Luis Leloir, Nobel Prize Website, 2018. Taken from nobelprize.org
- Luis Federico Leloir, Famous People Biographies, (nd). Taken from thefamouspeople.com
- Luis Federico Leloir, Wikipedia in English, 2018. Taken from wikipedia.org