American biochemist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in
1955 for the isolation and synthesis of two pituitary hormones: vasopressin,
which acts on the muscles of the blood vessels to cause elevation of
blood pressure; and oxytocin, the principal agent causing contraction
of the uterus and secretion of milk.
Du Vigneaud and his staff helped identify the chemical structure of
the hormone insulin in the late 1930s, and in the early 1940s they established
the structure of the sulfur-bearing vitamin biotin. Later that decade,
they isolated vasopressin and oxytocin and analyzed both those hormones'
chemical structure. Du Vigneaud found that the oxytocin molecule contains
only eight different amino acids, in contrast to the hundreds of amino
acids most other proteins contain. In 1953 he was able to synthesize
oxytocin, becoming the first to achieve the synthesis of a protein hormone.
In 1946 du Vigneaud and his colleagues at Cornell achieved another breakthrough,
the synthesis of penicillin.
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