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Department of Biochemistry

The Foundations of Metabolism

By 1901 Frederick Gowland Hopkins, working with Sydney W. Cole at the Physiological Laboratory, had discovered tryptophan, which led eventually to the concept of essential amino acids. Hopkins then began to work on the chemical composition of muscle and 'accessory food factors', later named vitamins, which led to his being awarded the 1929 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The Physiological Laboratory vacated their Corn Exchange Street building (where the David Attenborough Building now stands) in 1914. Hopkins' laboratory and the embryonic Biochemistry Department remained behind, allowing them to spread into the additional space. The University gave £1,500 for fitting out, £500 for equipment and, in 1915, £600 from a Medical School grant from the UK Board of Education. At the time, Hopkins was adviser to the Royal Society Food (War) Committee and was carrying out nutritional research aimed at helping the war effort. Nevertheless, fears were expressed that taking government money would invite their interference in the running of the University.

Other research in the war period, funded by the MRC, focused on bacteriology.


S.W. Cole and F.G. Hopkins with the first specimen of tryptophan, 1901.