Reinhold Benesch and Ruth Erica Benesch
Reinhold and Ruth Erica Benesch co-discovered how hemoglobin works like an oxygen delivery truck, carrying oxygen molecules to cells that need it. Ruth Erica Benesch was born this day in 1925.
Hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, carries oxygen from the lungs to all the cells in the body. Reinhold (1919–1986) and Ruth Erica Benesch (1925–2000) made a key discovery that helped explain how hemoglobin goes about releasing its oxygen cargo throughout the body.
Hemoglobin molecules function like oxygen delivery trucks. Every red blood cell contains hemoglobin molecules, and as the blood passes through the lungs each hemoglobin molecule picks up one oxygen molecule. The hemoglobin molecules then deliver their oxygen molecules, one at a time, via the bloodstream to all the cells throughout the body as needed.
The Benesches discovered how the hemoglobin “knows” when a cell needs oxygen. When cells metabolize sugars with oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct. A buildup of carbon dioxide functions as a “sign” to a hemoglobin molecule that a cell has been using up oxygen by metabolizing sugars and needs more oxygen. By releasing oxygen wherever carbon dioxide starts to build up in the body, hemoglobin delivers oxygen to where it is needed most.
Visit Chemistry in History to continue reading about the work of the Benesches.
Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation