Umetaro Suzuki: The Pioneer in the Vitamin Research

Umetaro Suzuki (鈴木 梅太郎) was a Japanese scientist, who was the first to discover vitamin B1 (thiamine) in rice bran.

The discovery of vitamin began with investigation into the cause of the disease beriberi. In 1987, Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch military physician, discovered that rice bran cured chickens’ beriberi-like polyneuritis. Owing to Eijkman’s work, many scientists began to extract substances from rice bran that could be used to treat victims of beriberi.

In Japan Umetaro Suzuki (鈴木 梅太郎) was one of the pioneers in this research. He confirmed that animals fed without rice bran developed polyneuritis and that could be prevented by adding rice bran to their diets. Further, he successfully isolated the active factor in rice bran. He named the factor “aberic acid” and was granted its patent.

In 1910, Suzuki presented his discovery before Tokyo Chemical Society. Unfortunately, as most of the medical community thought beriberi was the result of a microbial infection, his findings were ignored.

Although he published his paper in Germany in 1911, that could not draw their attentions. In the same year, Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist, reported he crystallized an amine substance from rice bran and named it “vitamin.” (It was now believed Funk crystallized nicotinic acid.)

Despite being the first to discover vitamin B1, Suzuki could not gain the world recognition as the pioneer, perhaps because he did not determine its chemical composition, and did not identify it as a new nutritional substance in his German paper.

Umetaro Suzuki (鈴木 梅太郎) was born April 7, 1874. Trained at the Faculty of Agricultural Technology of the Tokyo Imperial University, he had a postgraduate research in Germany as a student of famed chemist, Emil Fisher.