Parnas, Jakub Karol

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(b. Tarnopol, Poland [now Ukrainian S.S.R.], 16 January 1884; d. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 29 January 1949)


Parnas studied chemistry in the universities of Berlin, Strasbourg, Zurich, and Munich, where he received the Ph.D. in 1907. He was associate professor of chemistry at Strasbourg in 1913 and professor of physiological chemistry at Warsaw (1916–1919) and Lvov (1920–1941). From 1943 he was head of the Biological and Medical Chemistry Institute of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow, where he also established a Laboratory of physiological Chemistry as part of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

In the course of his career Parnas educated a large number of biochemists and exerted an important influence on the development of biochemistry, both in Poland and throughout the world. As a researcher, his chief fields of investigation were the biochemistry of muscles, especially the interdependence of the metabolism of carbohydrates and that of phosphorus; ammonia production in its relationship to the function of muscles; and the connection between nitrogen metabolism and the metabolism of adenosine monophosphate, including its deamination and dephosphorylation. He discovered the phosphorolysis of glycogen, and, by establishing reaction sequences linking the metabolism of carbohydrates with that of phosphorus, initiated the method of studying life processes now characteristic of molecular biology. In 1937, in collaboration with the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Parnas became one of the first to apply p32 to biochemical investigations, particularly to that of the metabolism of muscles in vitro. He thus attained a detailed picture of the functional metabolism of muscles; the enzymatic pathway that he thereby established is sometimes known as the Embden, Meyerhof, and Parnas (EMP) scheme.

Parnas was a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences, the Academy of Medicine in Paris, and the Leopoldina. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Athens and Paris.


I. Original Works. Parnas published about 120 scientific papers and a number of reviews, of which a list of twenty may be found in Dorothy M. Needham, Machina carnis (Cambridge, 1971), p. 706. A complete list of Parnas’ works has been compiled by Irena Mochnacka in Acta Biochimica Polonica, 3 (1956), 3–39. His textbooks include Chemja Fizjologiczna (“Physiological Chemistry “; Warsaw-Lvov, 1922).

II. Secondary Literature. An article on Parnas and his work appears in Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna (Warsaw, 1966), and J. Heller and W. Mozolowski have described his teaching activity in Postepy Biochemii,4 (1958), 5–16, where there is also a bibliography.

T. W. Korzybski