Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maud Menten

Sandwalk points to the plaque honoring Maud Menten at the University of Toronto. Menten is best known to biochemistry students as one of the creators (if that's the right word) of the Michaelis-Menten equation.

Michaelis and Menten are responsible for establishing the fundamental principles of enzyme kinetics and for putting biochemistry on solid mathematical ground. They were never recognized by the Nobel committee for their important contributions.
"Maud Who?" from the PittChronicle has a nice recounting of Menten's life at the University of Pittsburg, where she was on the faculty of the School of Medicine, and, eventually, head of the Department of Pathology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The article notes:
The [Michaelis-Menten Equation] equation, which provides a mathematical means for determining the rate of an enzyme reaction, has been called the foundation of modern enzymology, and it is a standard for most subsequent enzyme-kinetic measurements. Moreover, the development of most drugs in this century would not have been possible without that understanding. When Michaelis and Menten published their work in 1913, little was known about enzymes, including their basic chemical nature.
The equation was not her only scientific achievement.
More importantly, Menten is believed to be the first to study human hemoglobins using electrophoresis (an innovation widely credited to Linus Pauling, though her work on this predated his by many years). And with Junge and Green, she discovered the azo-dye coupling reaction. This finding is credited as the first example of enzyme histochemistry.
It's unfortunate that her research is so little remembered today.
To this day, Menten is little known. The famous paper she wrote with Michaelis, in which they describe their equation for the first time, refers to her only as “Miss Menten,” according to published reports. Some called her simply “Michaelis’s assistant.” And for those who want to learn more about this mysterious woman, there is little to find. Most who knew Menten have gone, and few wrote down their thoughts and memories of her.
Here's hoping more people learn of her achievements.

Additional links:
Enzymes Make It Happen @ Her Lab in Your Life
Wikipedia article on Michaelis-Menten kinetics