Printer Friendly Page

One of the observations Dr SubbaRow made while testing the phosphorus method seemed to provide a clue to the mystery what happens to blood sugar when insulin is administered. Biochemists began investigating the problem when Frederick Banting showed that injections of insulin, the pancreatic hormone, keeps blood sugar under control and keeps diabetics alive.

SubbaRow worked for 18 months on the problem, often dieting and starving along with animals used in experiments.  But the initial observations were finally shown to be neither significant nor unique and the project had to be scrapped in September 1926.

Out of the ashes of this project however arose another project that provided the key to the ancient mystery of muscular contraction.  Living organisms resist degeneration and destruction with the help of muscles, and biochemists had long believed that a hypothetical inogen provided the energy required for the flexing of muscles at work.

Two researchers at Cambridge University in United Kingdom confirmed that lactic acid is formed when muscles contract and Otto Meyerhof of Germany showed that this lactic acid is a breakdown product of glycogen, the animal starch stored all over the body, particularly in liver, kidneys and muscles. When Professor Archibald Hill of the University College of London demonstrated that conversion of glycogen to lactic acid partly accounts for heat produced during muscle contraction everybody assumed that glycogen was the inogen. And, the 1922 Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology was divided between Hill and Meyerhof.

But how is glycogen converted to lactic acid? Embden, another German biochemist, advanced the hypothesis that blood sugar and phosphorus combine to form a hexose phosphoric ester which breaks down glycogen in the muscle to lactic acid.

In the midst of the insulin experiments, it occurred to Fiske and SubbaRow that Embden's hypothesis would be supported if normal persons were found to have more hexose phosphate in their muscle and liver than diabetics. For diabetes is the failure of the body to use sugar. There would be little reaction between sugar and phosphorus in a diabetic body. If Embden was right, hexose (sugar) phosphate level in the muscle and liver of diabetic animals should rise when insulin is injected.

Fiske and SubbaRow rendered some animals diabetic by removing their pancreas in the spring of 1926, but they could not record any rise in the organic phosphorus content of muscles or livers after insulin was administered to the animals. Sugar phosphates were indeed produced in their animals but they were converted so quickly by enzymes to lactic acid that Fiske and SubbaRow could not detect them with methods then available. This was fortunate for science because, in their mistaken belief that Embden was wrong, they began that summer an extensive study of organic phosphorus compounds in the muscle "to repudiate Meyerhof completely".

The departmental budget was so poor that SubbaRow often waited on the back streets of Harvard Medical School at night to capture cats he needed for the experiments.

When he prepared the cat muscles for estimating their phosphorus content, SubbaRow found he could not get a constant reading in the colorimeter.  The intensity of the blue colour went on rising for thirty minutes. Was there something in muscle which delayed the colour reaction? If yes, the time for full colour development should increase with the increase in the quantity of the sample. But the delay was not greater when the sample was 10 c.c. instead of 5 c.c. The only other possibility was that muscle had an organic compound which liberated phosphorus as the reaction in the colorimeter proceeded. This indeed was the case, it turned out. It took a whole year.

1 2
     

Phosphorus Method

ATP - Energy For Life Folic Acid
Anti-Folic Acid Filariasis Tetracycline
 
(c) Evelyn Publishers, This Website is dedicated to Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow whose contribution to human well being is unparalled