Fritz Albert Lipmann

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Fritz Albert Lipmann


German-American Biochemist

Fritz Albert Lipmann was a German-born, American biochemist who helped discover the biochemical processes by which organisms produce and use energy. In particular, he discovered an essential substance called coenzyme A, which is a crucial intermediary in metabolism. It is necessary for the conversion of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids into usable energy. For the work cited above, Lipmann was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with German biochemist Sir Hans Adolph Krebs (1900-1981). Lipmann was also the first to propose that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) was the common form of energy used in many cellular reactions, a concept now thoroughly accepted and documented.

Lipmann was born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1899. While his early education was unremarkable, he went on and studied medicine at universities in Königsberg, Berlin, and Munich from 1917 to 1922. Lipmann was enamored with the subject of biochemistry. He continued his studies at the University in Berlin and received his medical degree in 1924. His doctorate in chemistry was completed there in 1927. He then joined famous physiologist Otto Meyerhof (1884-1951) in Heidelberg, to further research the biochemical reactions that occur in muscle.

In 1930 Lipmann went back to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin to work as a research assistant in the laboratory of Albert Fischer, who was interested in applying biochemical methods to tissue culture. Lipmann also briefly traveled to New York where he worked extensively with a class of chemicals known as phosphates. Lipmann accompanied Fischer to the Institute in Copenhagen in 1932. While at Copenhagen, Lipmann studied the metabolism of fibroblasts, which led to important publications regarding the role of glycolysis in the metabolism of the cells of embryos.

Fearing the political environment in Germany, Lipmann emigrated to the United States in 1939 and became Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry, Cornell Medical School, New York. In 1941 he joined the research staff of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Lipmann became a United States citizen in 1944. He received an appointment as Professor of Biological Chemistry at Harvard Medical School in 1947. In 1957, he was appointed a Member and Professor of the Rockefeller Institute in New York.

Lipmann spent most of his career investigating cellular metabolism in some form or another. He studied how food is converted into energy for the cells. While he is most famous for his discovery of coenzyme A, which netted him a Nobel Prize, he has made a significant amount of other contributions to the field. In 1941, he was the first scientist to propose that a cellular compound known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the universal energy source for cellular metabolism. Lipmann also spent a significant amount of time examining other metabolic cycles, the structure of cancer cells, and the activity of the hormone secreted by the thyroid gland. His most important discovery occurred in 1945 when Lipmann and his colleagues identified a substance in pigeon liver extracts that needed to be present for specific metabolic reactions to occur. He isolated and characterized the substance that now has become known as coenzyme A. This molecule is one of the most important in the body and is necessary to help generate cellular energy from ingested foods.

In 1931, Lipmann married Elfreda M. Hall, and they had one son, Steven. Fritz Albert Lipmann passed away in 1986 after a lifetime of scientific achievement.