Gunsalus, Irwin Clyde (1912-2008) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Gunsalus, Irwin Clyde (1912-2008)

Historical Note:

Irwin ("Gunny") Clyde Gunsalus (1912-2008) was professor of microbiology (1950-55), professor of biochemistry (1955-82), head of the Division of Biochemistry (1955-66), and professor emeritus (1982-2008) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He was a trailblazing biochemist and enzymologist globally renowned for his multidisciplinary research contributions to understanding bacterial and human metabolism and for his discovery of vitamins, including lipoic acid and pyridoxal phosphate (active B-6) in 1953.

Gunsalus was born in Sully County, South Dakota on June 29, 1912, and he attended South Dakota State College before transferring to Cornell University in 1931. At Cornell, Gunsalus specialized in bacteriology and earned a bachelor's degree (1935), master's degree (1937), and a doctorate (1940). He worked as assistant professor (1940-44) and associate professor (1944-46), and professor (1946-47) of bacteriology at Cornell (1940â??47), helping the WWII war effort by researching food safety and disease risks. He joined the faculty at Indiana University as professor of bacteriology (1947â??50) before accepting a position at UIUC in 1950. Over the course of his career, Gunsalus's pioneering research was remarkably prolific. Collaborations in organic chemistry, genetics and physics, led to significant discoveries related to bacterial chemistry and growth factors, biological catalysis and regulation, metabolites, metabolic reactions, and bacterial cytochrome P-450 enzymes and liver metabolism as well as the genetic discovery of catabolic plasmids; he secured a patent on lipoic acid in 1962. Gunsalusâ??s publications include the five-volume The Bacteria (with Roger Stanier, 1960â??65). He was the founding Editor of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

Gunsalus held John Simon Guggenheim fellowships in 1949 and 1959. He served as president of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1974) and president of Levis Faculty Center Board of Directors (1973â??75). His achievements were recognized with membership to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1965), the American Academy of Microbiology, and the National Academy of Sciences (serving as Chairman of its Section of Biochemistry, 1978-81). Gunsalus was also honored with the Selman Waksman Award (1982), an honorary doctorate (Indiana University, 1984), and the William C. Rose Award (1986).

Gunsalus died at home in Andalusia, Alabama, on October 25, 2008.


"Irwin C. Gunsalus, renowned biochemist, dies at 96," UIUC Department of Chemistry, accessed May 14, 2020,

H. Roger Segelken, "Irwin C. Gunsalus, Vitamin Biochemist, Dies at 96," New York Times, November 21, 2008, accessed May 14, 2020,

Wikipedia, s.v. "Irwin Gunsalus," accessed May 14, 2020,

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