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Elmer McCollum

Elmer McCollum
Born Elmer Verner McCollum
(1879-03-03)March 3, 1879[1]
Fort Scott, Kansas, U.S.
Died November 15, 1967(1967-11-15) (aged 88)
Residence America
Nationality American
Fields Biochemist
Institutions Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Alma mater University of Kansas
Yale University Ph.D.
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Known for Discovering Vitamin A, Vitamin B and Vitamin D.
Discovering the influence of diet on health.
Devising the vitamin naming system.
Discovered the importance of trace metals on Diet.
Notable awards Howard N. Potts Medal (1921)

Elmer Verner McCollum ForMemRS[1] (March 3, 1879 – November 15, 1967) was an American biochemist known for his work on the influence of diet on health.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Life and education

McCollum was born on a farm near Fort Scott, Kansas, where he spent his first seventeen years. He worked at odd jobs to finish high school and college, graduating from the University of Kansas in 1903 and earning his doctorate at Yale University in 1906. McCollum got his Ph.D. from Yale in 2 years, but stayed at Yale for another year working with T. Osborne and L. B. Mendel on problems of plant protein composition and diet. This deeply influenced Mccollum's future career. Mendel helped McCollum secure a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


As a faculty member in agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, he established the nation's first colony of white lab rats to use for his nutrition experiments.

McCollum first proposed that the nutritive failure of certain diets was due to a lack of "palatability." He proposed that if a diet could be made to taste good, and the animals ate larger quantities of food, the diets would be adequate. This hypothesis, and the supporting data, were criticized by both Osborne and Mendel, who demonstrated that plant protein diets were not adequate unless protein-free milk was added as a supplement. In some of their papers, Mendel and Osborne suggested that McCollum had been careless in some of his experiments. McCollum acknowledged this error and rededicated himself to more careful analyses including an analysis of the growth-promoting factors in protein-free milk, which then led to the isolation of the first known fat-soluble vitamin which he later called Vitamin A.

His experiments with the diets of small animals also led to the discovery of the water-soluble vitamin B. He later showed that B is not a single compound, but a complex. McCollum and biochemist-in-training Marguerite Davis gave the "factors" letter names, because their structures had not yet been determined to give them proper chemical names. He showed that vitamin D prevents rickets, a bone disease. Other sources, such as Patricia Swan's article in The Journal of Nutrition (1994 American Institute of Nutrition.J. Nutrition 124: 455-460.), and a McCollum biography by Simoni, R. D. and Vaughan, M. (2002) Nutritional biochemistry and the discovery of vitamins. The work of Elmer Verner McCollum. J. Biol. Chem. 277(19), ascribe the first use of letter names for vitamins to Cornelia Kennedy, who used them in her master's thesis for the University of Wisconsin in 1916, citing research published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (McCollum and Kennedy 1916).

McCollum opposed Casimir Funk's 1912 name vitamines (from vital amines) because he thought they were no more "vital" than other nutrients and because they are not true amines. The name was changed to its current spelling in 1920.

In 1917 Johns Hopkins University recruited McCollum as the first chair and professor in the newly established Department of Chemical Hygiene,[14] although he almost didn't get the job. At 6 feet and just 127 pounds, the nutritionist looked "frail" to the faculty members who interviewed him.

He published 150 papers at Johns Hopkins, reporting research work on tooth decay, vitamins D and E, and the role of trace minerals in nutrition, including aluminum, calcium, cobalt, fluorine, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, sodium, strontium and zinc. McCollum worked with Herbert Hoover's U.S. Food Administration to alleviate starvation in Europe in the aftermath of World War I. His classic textbook The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition went through multiple editions.

McCollum's book The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition (1918) influenced many dietitians.

After his 1946 retirement, he wrote The History of Nutrition and an autobiography. McCollum received many awards, honors and medals in his life and died in 1967 rich in rewards. His home in Baltimore is a National Historic Landmark, and the American Society for Nutrition sponsors a McCollum lecture and gives the E.V. McCollum Award each year to "a clinical investigator who is perceived currently as a major creative force, actively generating new concepts in nutrition."

McCollum was a great believer in nutrition through food. To his dying day, McCollum regarded drugstore vitamin pills and supplements as snake-oil quackery. He died on November 15, 1967, at the age of 88. Shortly before his death, he remarked: "I have had an exceptionally pleasant life and am thankful."


  • The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition, 1918
  • American Home Diet
  • Food, Nutrition and Health, 6th edition 1947
  • A History of Nutrition, 1957
  • From Kansas Farm Boy to Scientist, 1964

See also


  1. ^ a b c doi:10.1098/rsbm.1969.0008
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  2. ^ Rafter, G. W. (1987). "Elmer McCollum and the disappearance of rickets". Perspectives in biology and medicine 30 (4): 527–534. PMID 3330604.  edit
  3. ^ "Nutrition classics. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 91, 1967: The paths to the discovery of vitamins a and D. By Elmer Verner McCollum". Nutrition reviews 44 (7): 242–244. 1986. PMID 3554022.  edit
  4. ^ Mayer, J. (1982). "The impact of Elmer Verner McCollum on national and global nutritional problems". Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. Kansas Academy of Science 85 (3): 142–151. PMID 6753305. doi:10.2307/3628332.  edit
  5. ^ Herriott, R. M. (1980). "Life and contributions of Elmer V. McCollum". Federation proceedings 39 (10): 2713–2715. PMID 6997088.  edit
  6. ^ Bing, F. C. (1979). "Elmer Verner McCollum (1879-1967)--his first centennial: 1979". Journal of the American Dietetic Association 75 (4): 405–406. PMID 383767.  edit
  7. ^ Day, H. G. (1974). "Elmer Verner McCollum". Biographical memoirs. National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) 45: 263–335. PMID 11615648.  edit
  8. ^ Rider, A. A. (1970). "Elmer Verner McCollum--a biographical sketch (1879-1967)". The Journal of nutrition 100 (1): 1–10. PMID 4904501.  edit
  9. ^ Holt Jr, L. E. (1968). "A tribute to Elmer V. McCollum". The American journal of clinical nutrition 21 (10): 1136–1137. PMID 4879632.  edit
  10. ^ "Dr. Elmer Verner McCollum". Annals of dentistry 27 (2): 60. 1968. PMID 4876892.  edit
  11. ^ Snyder, E. M.; Jones, E. A. (1968). "Elmer Verner McCollum, March 3, 1879-November 15, 1967". Journal of the American Dietetic Association 52 (1): 49. PMID 4864084.  edit
  12. ^ Van, M. (1964). "Elmer Verner Mccollum". Voeding 25: 587–599. PMID 14260774.  edit
  13. ^ Kruse, H. D. (1961). "Citation and presentation of the Academy Medal to Elmer Verner MCCOLLUM". Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 37 (4): 229–234. PMC 1804669. PMID 13754631.  edit
  14. ^ "Pierre Coulombe to Lead the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology". October 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2010. 

External links

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