German biochemist who, with Leopold Ruzicka, was awarded the 1939 Nobel
Prize for Chemistry for his work on sex hormones. Although forced by
the Nazi government to refuse the prize, he was able to accept the honour
In 1929, almost simultaneously with Edward A. Doisy in the United States, Butenandt isolated estrone, one of the hormones responsible for sexual development and function in females. In 1931 he isolated and identified androsterone, a male sex hormone, and in 1934, the hormone progesterone, which plays an important part in the female reproductive cycle. It was now clear that sex hormones are closely related to steroids, and after Ruzicka showed that cholesterol could be transformed into androsterone, he and Butenandt were able to synthesize both progesterone and the male hormone testosterone. Butenandt's investigations made possible the eventual synthesis of cortisone and other steroids and led to the development of birth control pills.
In the 1940s Butenandt's researches on eye-colour defects in insects
proved that specific genes control the synthesis of enzymes needed in
various metabolic processes, and that mutations in those genes can result
in metabolic defects. In 1959, after two decades of research, Butenandt
and his colleagues isolated the sex attractant of the silkworm moth,
Bombyx mori, which proved to be the first known example of the important
class of chemical substances known as pheromones. He was also the first
to crystallize an insect hormone, ecdysone.
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