The man pictured above is Dr. Yellapragada Subbarao. Difficult name, I know. I first came across this name while studying for a biochemistry class in college. Subbarao was an Indian scientist who had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and earned himself a degree from Harvard Medical School. He also discovered the drug Hetrazan, which is used to treat parasitic diseases in the developing world, and isolated previously undiscovered molecules found in DNA. Impressive, no? Amazingly enough, as it turns out, Subbarao was also the first man to discover and conclusively define the function of something called adenosine triphosphate.
Anyone who has studied biology after WWII will have arguably learned about adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, at some point in his or her education. He or she will have also learned that the ATP molecule is tremendously important to living organisms — in humans, it serves as the primary energy source for our cells so that they may carry out chemical reactions that keep us alive and functioning. ATP is the thing that helps our muscles contract, our blood circulate and our synapses fire. At any given moment, whether we’re heavy-lifting, doing Pilates, walking slow, flipping burgers or riding mopeds, chances are our bodies are using ATP. Basically, its often hidden importance in our lives is difficult to overstate.
Now, who would’ve thought that a boy who failed his high school exit exam twice, worked odd jobs as an immigrant student in pre-Civil Rights Movement America and was snubbed out of a faculty position at Harvard would go on to reach such great heights in academia? Since his death, Subbarao’s work has apparently gone on to serve as the foundation for the development of therapies for a variety of illnesses. An American author once remarked of his contributions to science: “You’ve probably never heard of Dr. Yellapragada Subbarao. Yet because he lived, you may be alive and are well today. Because he lived, you may live longer.”
Here’s to scientists who’ve helped our understanding of both ourselves and the world we live in.