By this point, we’ve talked about making sourdough bread and the science behind it. Slowly, slowly, my readers are beginning to suspect that I am some sort of sourdough maniac who thinks of nothing else. Not to fear, we will soon wrap up this fascinating topic, but not before discussing the woman behind the discovery of the Cori Cycle, which not only explains how sourdough works, but has proved an invaluable contribution to the field of medicine. As was mentioned at the end of my last post, the discovery of the Cori Cycle was the product of research performed by Gerty Cori in collaboration with her husband, Carl Cori, for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Gerty Cori’s path to the Nobel Prize was a challenging—and inspiring—one. Born in 1896 in Prague, she was a young woman determined to become a research scientist. At the age of 16, she decided to study at university and enrolled herself in a college-prep school (to compliment the somewhat lacking education she had received at a girl’s preparatory school). She finished the program in just two short years and in 1914 was enrolled in medical school at the German University of Prague, one of very few women to have done so. During her studies, she met her future husband, Carl, and together they enjoyed gardening, mountain climbing and skiing (it’s important to have extra-curricular activities!).
Married in 1920, Gerty and Carl Cori later emigrated to the U.S., due to difficult living conditions and rising anti-semitism after the first world war. It is a sign of her independence and strength that Gerty remained in Vienna alone for six months after Carl had left, working at a children’s hospital until she could find a job of her own in the U.S.. Finally, she was able to find a position for herself and left Europe to live with her husband in Buffalo, New York.
The prejudice of the day made it difficult for Gerty to find qualified work, and for many years she worked as a research assistant, despite her level of experience. The couple continued to collaborate in their research for years, despite the disapproval of their peers, producing over fifty joint-written articles (alternating for the place of “first author” depending on who’d done the most leg work). In 1946, Gerty was finally granted a well-deserved, full professorship at the Washington University School of Medicine and in 1947, Gerty and Carl, along with Bernardo Houssay, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research. With this award, Gerty Cori was the third woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize, and the first to ever receive a Nobel in that category.
Gerty Cori died in 1957 after a long battle with myelosclerosis. In her lifetime, she published eleven papers independently, played an important role in groundbreaking research in the field of biology, including the discovery of the Cori Cycle, and was rewarded for her efforts with Nobel Prize.
With this, I will wrap up the topic of sourdough (for now!). Contrary to the sourdough-fanatic theory, there is a method to my madness, and what I hope that I have managed to get across with these posts is the following: 1) making homemade sourdough is both fun and cheap, 2) opportunities for scientific learning can be found in even the most unsuspecting of places, 3) the contribution of women scientists, present and past, is non-trivial and such contributions are to be found almost everywhere we look.
- Gerty Cori – Biographical. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 24 Oct 2013. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1947/cori-gt-bio.html
- “Carl Ferdinand Cori and Gerty Theresa Cori”. Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 19 October 2013. http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/biomolecules/proteins-and-sugars/cori-and-cori.aspx