James Batcheller Sumner

James Batcheller Sumner

American biochemist who proved the protein nature of enzymes, Nobel Prize laureate
Date of Birth: 19.11.1887
Country: USA

  1. Biography of James Batcheller Sumner
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Career and Discoveries
  4. Later Life and Legacy

Biography of James Batcheller Sumner

James Batcheller Sumner was an American biochemist who proved the protein nature of enzymes and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1946, along with D. Northrop and W. Stanley.

Early Life and Education

James Batcheller Sumner was born into the family of Charles Sumner, a farmer and owner of a cotton spinning factory, and Elizabeth Rand Kelly. At the age of 17, he lost his left hand in a hunting accident and, although he was left-handed from birth, he learned to adapt with his right hand. Initially, he intended to become an electrical engineer and enrolled at Harvard University in 1906. However, his interest in chemistry grew, and in 1910, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. After graduating, Sumner worked in the family business for a year, which he later described as "dirty and uninteresting work." He happily accepted an offer to temporarily teach chemistry at Allison College in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, even though he had never shown an inclination for teaching. In 1912, he returned to Harvard to further his knowledge in chemistry and physiology.

Career and Discoveries

Sumner's remarkable skill in experiments impressed those around him. In 1913, he became a Master of Natural Sciences, and in 1914, he defended his dissertation on the synthesis of urea in animal organisms. After completing medical school at Harvard University, Sumner became an assistant professor of chemistry at Cornell Medical College in Ithaca, New York. In 1929, he became a professor.

In the 1920s, Sumner set out to "understand what life is, what makes organisms grow, and why everything spins." His first task was to isolate an enzyme in its pure form. Sumner conducted experiments with urease, a plant enzyme involved in the decomposition of urea. In 1916, he discovered a high concentration of urease in Canavalia ensiformis, a tropical plant native to South America. He attempted to isolate urease from the seeds of Canavalia ensiformis and even visited the renowned enzymologist Jean Effront in Brussels to discuss his project. However, Effront deemed Sumner's idea too trivial.

After nine years of unsuccessful work, Sumner finally succeeded in isolating microscopic crystals that consisted of a protein. His discovery, published in 1926, was met with skepticism and ridicule due to the simplicity of the method and the unusually high yield of the product. The defatted bean flour was extracted with aqueous acetone, and the filtrate was refrigerated, after which the enzyme crystals could be easily filtered. R. Willstätter, a Nobel laureate in 1915, was particularly critical of Sumner's findings, claiming that the crystals contained a non-protein substance. Over the next four years, Sumner defended his point of view in a series of articles, presenting additional experimental evidence in support of his theory. In 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Prize, which he shared with D. Northrop and W. Stanley, "for the discovery that enzymes can be crystallized."

Later Life and Legacy

A year after receiving the Nobel Prize, Sumner became the director of the new Enzyme Chemistry Laboratory at Cornell University, where he continued his research and teaching. He earned the respect of his students by working tirelessly. Sumner once said, "The most important thing I tried to teach my students was to awaken their curiosity about the world around them and their desire to understand it, guided by one guiding star - the truth." From 1950 to 1952, Sumner wrote a comprehensive four-volume work called "Enzymes," which became a guide for the next generation of enzymologists.

Apart from his scientific pursuits, Sumner was an excellent tennis player, archer, avid hiker, and enjoyed photography, cooking, and studying foreign languages. Shortly after retiring from Cornell University in 1955, Sumner fell ill and died of cancer on August 12, 1955, in Buffalo, New York.

Some of Sumner's notable works include "Chemistry of Enzymes and Methods of Their Study" (1948, translated from English by V.A. Engelhardt) and "The Enzyme: Chemistry and Mechanism of Action" (1950-1952, co-authored with K. Myrback).