Roger J. Williams

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Roger John Williams (August 14, 1893 – February 20, 1988), was an American biochemist who named folic acid and discovered pantothenic acid, and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and President of the American Chemical Society. His brother Robert R. Williams, was an important chemist who was the first to synthesize Thiamine (Vitamin B1)


Roger John Williams was born in Ootacamund, India, of American parents on 14 August 1893. At age 2, his family returned to the U.S., where he grew up in Kansas and California. His formal education culminated in a Ph.D. degree (magna cum laude) from the University of Chicago in 1919.[1] He taught at the University of Oregon,[1] Oregon State University, and beginning in 1940, at the University of Texas at Austin. He authored several widely used textbooks of organic chemistry and biochemistry. Much of his work emphasized the role of heritable (genetic) differences among humans in response to foods and other environmental factors. His book "Biochemical Individuality" is a core text in nutrigenomics and what is now called precision medicine. He became Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in 1971, and retired from that position in 1986 at age 92. He is one of the founders of the field of personalized medicine.

While studying the nutrition of yeast cells, he discovered that aneurin (now named thiamine or vitamin B1), first described as a vitamin for humans, also promoted the growth of yeasts. This important finding opened the way for the use of microorganisms (yeast and bacteria) in nutritional research, which greatly sped up their discovery and the analysis of their metabolic effects. Later, again using yeasts, he discovered and isolated pantothenic acid and found a method for its chemical synthesis. Later, he concentrated folic acid, another B vitamin, and named it.

At the University of Texas, he founded and directed the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute (now called the Biochemical Institute) from 1940 to 1963, when he retired from that position. More vitamins and their variants were discovered in this laboratory than in any other laboratory in the world. The Clayton Foundation also promulgated information about Professor Williams's research on nutrition and alcoholism.

Following his retirement from the Directorship of the Institute, he concentrated on human nutrition as his central field of interest, writing several widely read books. After his 80th birthday, he continued to be actively involved, writing and editing several important books dealing with aspects of human nutrition and education. In his brief 1954 autobiography, Williams wrote that he considered his most important work to be the study of individual human differences. [1] His ideas on this subject are embodied in the books The Human Frontier and Free and Unequal, as well as his later book Alcoholism: The Nutritional Approach.

Common differences in nutritional needs formed the basis of a vitamin formula Williams developed to diminish the craving for alcohol in people biochemically susceptible to alcoholism. In a course he taught as a Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, The Biochemical and Physiological Bases of Individual Human Differences, Williams recounted his experience after publishing a book on this research. Because he had written that alcoholic people who got their individual nutritional needs fully met could drink socially without bingeing, he was assailed by people associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. Always a humble person, Williams allowed himself to be convinced that the social side of alcoholism was also of major importance. He withdrew his book and destroyed the printing. Williams never attempted to profit from this research; he gave his vitamin formula away to a number of pharmaceutical companies. A version modified by one of his former colleagues, Dr. Donald R. Davis, is sold under the name Vitamin & Mineral Insurance Formula, by Bronson Laboratories. With the formula open-sourced by Williams, no company has completed pharmaceutical research to get US Food and Drug Administration approval for claiming it as a treatment for alcoholism. Williams himself testified before Congress in 1974 that "proposed regulations which would aptly apply to drugs would be inappropriate for nutrients and vice versa."[2]

Professor Williams was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and was President of the American Chemical Society in 1957. He received honorary D.Sc. degrees from Columbia University, Oregon State University and University of Redlands, his alma mater. In 1941, for his discovery of pantothenic acid, he received the Mead Johnson Award of the American Institute of Nutrition and the Chandler Medal of Columbia University. In 1972, he served as a member of President Nixon's Advisory Panel on Heart Disease.

Williams married Hazel Elizabeth Wood in 1916; they raised three children. After Hazel's death in 1952, he married Mabel Phyllis Hobson the next year. He was an avid fisherman, golfer, walker and fan of University of Texas at Austin athletics. He died of pneumonia in an Austin nursing home at age 94, and is buried in Austin Memorial Park. His papers are in the University of Texas archives.


Many of Dr. Williams' books were published before the introduction of the International Standard Book Number or ISBN, and therefore do not have an ISBN.
  • The Human Frontier (Harcourt Brace, 1946)
  • The Biochemistry of B vitamins, Roger J. Williams and others (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1950)
  • Nutrition and Alcoholism, Roger J. Williams (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1951)
  • Free and Unequal: The Biological Basis of Individual Liberty. (Univ. of Texas Press, 1953)
  • Biochemical Individuality: The Basis for the Genetotrophic Concept (John Wiley & Sons, 1956; University of Texas Press, 1969 to 1979; Keats Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-87983-893-0) (also translated into Russian, Italian and Polish)
  • Alcoholism: The Nutritional Approach (Univ. of Texas Press, 1959 to 1978)
  • Nutrition in a Nutshell (1962, Doubleday and Dolphin)
  • The encyclopedia of biochemistry, edited by Roger J. Williams and Edwin M. Lansford, Jr. (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1967)
  • You are Extraordinary (Random House, 1967)
  • Nutrition Against Disease: Environmental Prevention (Pitman 1971, Bantam Books, 1973)
  • Physicians' Handbook of Nutritional Science (C.C. Thomas, 1975)
  • The Wonderful World Within You: Your Inner Nutritional Environment (Bantam Books, 1977; Bio-Communications Press 1987–1998)
  • The Prevention of Alcoholism Through Nutrition (Bantam Books, 1981)
  • Rethinking Education: The Coming Age of Enlightenment (Philosophical Library, 1986).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Bios". Time Magazine. 1931-04-27. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 

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