Reinhold Benesch and Ruth Erica Benesch are American biochemists who put in forty years to find out how oxygen is transported in our human body.
Reinhold Benesch was born on August 13, 1919 in Poland but later immigrated to England. He graduated from Leeds University in 1941. Ruth Benesch was born in Paris, France on February 25, 1925 to German parents. Ruth later returned to Germany. She and her sister were evacuated to England via Kinder transport in 1939, where she graduated from Stroud High School and received a B.Sc. from Birkbeck College in 1946. To support herself in college she worked on a part time basis at a rubber factory where she met Reinhold, who was working there as well as a consultant. They fell in love and got married in the year 1946.
Both earned their doctorates in biochemistry from the North-western University. Reinhold got his doctorate in 1950 and Ruth got hers in 1952. They began working in Columbia in the year 1960.
They started their first work on sulphur in proteins and thiol groups. However, they later started concentrating on haemoglobin.
Discovery of Oxygen Transportation
Haemoglobin is a protein that is present in red blood cells of our body and it carries oxygen from the lungs to all the cells present in the body. Reinhold and Ruth Erica Benesch discovered a key factor that helped in explaining how haemoglobin goes about releasing its oxygen cargo throughout the body.
According to their findings, haemoglobin molecules function like oxygen delivery trucks. Every red blood cell contains haemoglobin molecules, and as the blood passes through the lungs each haemoglobin molecule picks up one oxygen molecule. The haemoglobin molecules then deliver their oxygen molecules via the bloodstream to all the cells throughout the body as per the requirement of the body.
Reinhold and Ruth discovered how the haemoglobin "knows" when a cell of the body needs oxygen. According to them, when cells metabolize sugars with oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide as a by-product.
When this happens, carbon dioxide builds up and this building up of carbon dioxide functions as a "sign" to a haemoglobin molecule that a cell has been using up oxygen by metabolizing sugars and needs more oxygen. By releasing oxygen wherever required, carbon dioxide starts to build up in the body, haemoglobin then delivers oxygen to the cell which needs it the most.
Study of Sickle-Cell Anaemia
Ruth and Reinhold soon became a scientific team and were always collaborating on their biochemical research. In fact, Reinhold and Ruth also studied a disease called as sickle-cell anaemia. This disease is caused by abnormal haemoglobin. After Reinhold died in 1986, Ruth continued working and continued to study compounds that she hoped might be able to act like haemoglobin in the body. She was of the opinion that compounds like this could be useful for treating people with diseases caused by abnormal haemoglobin, like sickle-cell anaemia. She continued this work until her retirement which was ten years later.
Ruth Benesch died at her home in New York City in the year 2000.