Thomas Burr Osborne (chemist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Thomas Burr Osborne
Chemist Thomas Burr Osborne.png
Born(1859-08-05)August 5, 1859
New Haven, Connecticut
Died(1929-01-29)January 29, 1929 (aged 69)
New Haven, Connecticut
EducationYale College
Elizabeth Annah Johnson
(m. 1886)

Thomas Burr Osborne (August 5, 1859 – January 29, 1929) was a biochemist who, with Lafayette Mendel, independently discovered Vitamin A,[1] though Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis were ultimately given credit, as they had submitted their paper first by three weeks. He is known for his work isolating and characterizing seed proteins, and for determining protein nutritional requirements. His career was spent at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.


Thomas Burr Osborne was born in New Haven, Connecticut on August 5, 1859.[2] He was the son of lawyer Arthur Dimon Osborne and the grandson of US Representative Thomas Burr Osborne.[3][4][5][6] He earned an undergraduate degree from Yale College in 1881, and a PhD in chemistry there in 1885.[2]

He married Elizabeth Annah Johnson on June 23, 1886, and they had one son.[2][7]

Osborne died at his home in New Haven on January 29, 1929.[7]


His life exhibited "a single purpose, the understanding of the relationships of proteins to each other and the animal world. He began his researches upon vegetable proteins in 1888,..."[8] He published his findings in The Vegetable Proteins in 1909.

Osborne realized the polypeptide structure of proteins: "The nature of proteins in seeds was greatly elucidated in the opening years of the 20th century by T.B. Osborne, who developed methods for their isolation and purification, by means of which he discovered the chemical differences in proteins of various plants. His work revealed an imposing number of vegetable proteins. Osborne considered that the amino acids are for the most part united in the protein molecule in polypeptide union; that is, by the union of the NH2 of one amino acid with the carboxyl group of another."[9]

Osborne wrote over 100 papers with longtime collaborator Lafayette Mendel. Both were appointees of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. In their early work, they studied the deadly poison ricin which is classified as a type 2 ribosome inactivating protein (RIP) from castor beans.

In 1909, Osborne and Mendel's work found what amino acids are necessary for the survival of the laboratory rat. At the Connecticut experimental station they developed a lab with about 200 rats whose dietary intake was carefully controlled.[10] Their studies on rats revealed the necessary elements in a healthy diet. The program was described by J.R. Lindsey and H.J. Baker:[11]

The striking differences in amino acid composition of plant proteins, which had been documented by Osborne, suggested that possible differences might exist in their biological value. The nutritive values of various purified proteins from cereal grains and other plant sources were compared for growth and maintenance in rats. This led to supplementation of "incomplete proteins" with those amino acids limiting each foodstuff's "biological quality" (e.g. Tryptophan and lysine). Casein was found to be a "complete protein", thus paving the way for the use of this protein in modern rat diets. Within a few years it was possible to list the "essential" and "nonessential" amino acids.

The science of nutrition thus evolved beyond the caloric energy of food, turning to the structural issue of essential amino acids.

Vitamin A discovery[edit]

Osborne and Mendel discovered Vitamin A in 1913 in butter fat – independently discovered by Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis, who submitted their publication first, with both papers appearing in the same issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.[12] Osborne and Mendel showed, for example, that a lack of Vitamin A in the diet led to xerophthalmia.

They also established the importance of lysine and tryptophan in a healthy diet.[13]

"Water-soluble vitamin B" found in "protein-free milk" was also shown to be an essential nutrient.[14]



  1. ^ Rosenfeld, Louis (April 1997). "Vitamine—vitamin. The early years of discovery". Clinical Chemistry. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. 43 (4): 680–685. doi:10.1093/clinchem/43.4.680. PMID 9105273. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. XV. James T. White & Company. 1916. p. 334. Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "Obituary: Thomas Burr Osborne" (PDF).
  4. ^ Chittenden, R. H. (1933). "Thomas Burr Osborne (1859-1929)". Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 68 (13): 651–654. JSTOR 20023001.
  5. ^ Vickery, H. B. (1929). "Thomas Burr Osborne". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 1 (4): 187.b1–191. PMC 2606178. PMID 21433424.
  6. ^ Vickery, H. B.; Mendel, L. B. (1929). "The Work of Thomas Burr Osborne (1859-1929)". Science. 69 (1789): 385–389. Bibcode:1929Sci....69..385V. doi:10.1126/science.69.1789.385. PMID 17839302.
  7. ^ a b "Dr. Thomas B. Osborne, Research Chemist, Dies At Home in New Haven". Hartford Courant. New Haven. January 30, 1929. p. 1. Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via
  8. ^ Bradford Vickery, Hubert (1931). "Thomas Burr Osborne (1859 — 1929)" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences. 14: 8.
  9. ^ Howard S. Reed (1942) A Short History of Plant Sciences, page 238, Chronica Publishing
  10. ^ Edna Louise Ferry (1919) "Nutrition experiments with rats: a description of methods and technique", Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 8: 735 to 45
  11. ^ J. Russell Lindsey & Henry J. Baker, Chapter one: Historical Foundations of The Laboratory Rat by Mark A. Suckow, Steven H. Weisbroth, and Craig L. Franklin (2005) ISBN 0080454321
  12. ^ Rosenfeld, Louis (April 1997). "Vitamine—vitamin. The early years of discovery". Clinical Chemistry. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. 43 (4): 680–685. doi:10.1093/clinchem/43.4.680. PMID 9105273. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  13. ^ "Lafayette Benedict Mendel" in "Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940. American Council of Learned Societies, 1944-1958. Reproduced at Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, Michigan: Thomson Gale. 2007.
  14. ^ L.B. Mendel from