A Polish-American biochemist, Casimir Funk in 1912 was the first to clearly propose that diseases like beri-beri, scurvy, and rickets were caused not by infections or toxins, but by the deficiency in foods of trace organic compounds he called “vitamines.” The name stuck, though the “e” was later dropped when it became apparent that not all vitamins contain an “amine” group.
A journeyman bench scientist, Funk was working at the Lister Institute in London at the time, assigned the task of finding the amino acid that was supposedly discarded from milled rice, resulting in beri-beri. It wasn’t an amino acid and Funk succeeded in preparing the first crude thiamine-containing (vitamin B-1) extract from rice polishings.
Funk moved to the United States during World War I, then back to Poland in 1923, and on to Paris in 1928. In 1939, he abandoned all his material possessions to flee to the United States with his family, where he remained until his death at 83 in Albany, New York.
During his nearly 60 year career, Funk worked on an astonishing range of biological and industrial compounds, though he is remembered now chiefly for first enunciating the paradigm of vitamin nutrition. References:
- Wikipedia biography
- biography in Journal of Nutrition
- Funk’s seminal 1912 paper (full-text)
- Casimir Funk: his discovery of the vitamins and their deficiency disorders by A. Piro et al. (2010)
- two Funk quotations
- biography on Linus Pauling blog
- “Casimir Funk. Pioneer in Vitamins and Hormones” by Benjamin Harrow. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1955.