Fischer's research on the purines was instituted in 1881. He determined the structures of uric acid, xanthine, caffeine, theobromine, and other related compounds, and he showed that they are all derivatives of a single compound, a nitrogenous base that he named purine.
His researches into the sugar group, begun in 1883, were of unparalleled importance to organic chemistry. In 1875 he had published his discovery of the compound phenylhydrazine, a substance that in 1884 he found reacts with simple sugars to form derivatives called osazones. Despite major complications because of stereochemical relations, Fischer was able to use these derivatives to determine the molecular structures of fructose, glucose, and many other sugars, and he was able to verify his results by synthesizing those compounds. He also showed how to distinguish the formulas of the 16 stereoisometric glucoses. In the course of his stereochemical research, Fischer discovered that there are two series of sugars, the D sugars and the L sugars, that are mirror images of each other. His study of sugars led him to investigate the reactions and substances involved in fermentation, and, in his investigations of how enzymes break down sugars, Fischer laid the foundations for enzyme chemistry.
Fischer's researches on the purines, begun in 1894, culminated in his
pioneering efforts to determine the structure of proteins. It was already
known that proteins were composed of amino acids, but Fischer found
new ways of purifying amino acids and determining how they are combined
together within the protein molecule. He then found ways to link amino
acids to each other and began synthesizing proteinlike substances; in
1907 he was able to combine 18 amino acids into a polypeptide, which
he then broke down by enzymes in the same manner as would occur in a
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