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All organisms survive by the creation of energy within their bodies. Our cells are constantly working to generate energy and spend them. But how does this process happen? What kind of a cycle is involved in this process? Any biology student would have heard the term ‘Cori’s cycle‘ but have you ever wondered where it comes from? The husband-wife duo that figured it are the ones that named it that! Prof. Gerty Cori & Prof. Carl Cori were the ones who uncovered the entire cellular mechanism behind the energy generation process. She was the first ever woman to win a Nobel in the category of Physiology & Medicine!

The husband-wife duo (Gerty Cori & Carl Cori) at their lab in Washington School of Medicine
The husband-wife duo at their lab in Washington School of Medicine (Source: nobelprize.org)

The journey to a research career

Prof. Gerty Cori began her career in the field of medicine by pursuing studies at a medical school. This is where she was introduced to the field of biochemistry and her love for the subject was instant. Because of the turbulent times she was living in, her research career took a hit. This is why they left Europe to go to America and began their research.

They were never treated the same in public despite the fact that they treated each other as equals. She struggled to find a research based job for a long time! Only 16 years after her career had begun, did she manage to become a Professor even though her husband received that distinction years ago.

The mysteries of carbohydrate metabolism

During this period, they researched the intricacies of carbohydrate metabolism and uncovered the entire process. They figured out that our body stores sugar in the muscle cells in the form of glycogen. This is then sent to the liver for further metabolism and conversion to energy i.e. glucose. All of this is sent back to the muscles where it can be utilized by the body!

 Glucose-1-phosphate crystals taken by Gerty Cori & Carl Cori
 Glucose-1-phosphate crystals (Source: nobelprize.org)

Eventually, they even discovered an enzyme that helps in the process and laid out the process of conversion of glycogen into glucose. They managed to demonstrate this process in a test tube! This was the first time that an internal body reaction was performed in a test tube. They literally carried out a biochemical reaction in a test tube. This marked the beginning of in vitro research which is extremely popular today.

Impact of her discovery

The impacts of her discovery for many fold as not only did they show that research can be carried outside living volunteers but demonstrated a vital reaction in our body. Additionally, this research helped them discover many other cardiac enzymes, the ubiquity of enzyme function and understand the metabolic process in detail. This information is widely used in various field today where we have come to a point where we can engineer our own enzymes through directed evolution!

References

Gerty Cori (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/gerty-cori

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