12 May, 2011
The first time I entered Brit’s office, I found him using a desktop magnifying glass reading an article. My visit had to do with a question I had asked him earlier the week; did he ever recall using nitrite or nitrate as substrates for catalase or other peroxidases. You see soon after nitric oxide was declared the molecule of the year by Science magazine and the Nobel Prize in 1998 was awarded for its discovery, the stable byproducts of its metabolism, nitrite and nitrate, had become a hot topic. Particularly the bioactivation and metabolism of these otherwise inert byproducts was receiving much attention.
However, I wondered if much of this biochemistry was already known, simply was forgotten and reinvented. Not surprising, without getting up from his stool, which by the way it was mounted on a monorail in a way that he could freely and with minimal effort rotate around his table while sitting (yet another BC invention), he pulls up an article from a file cabinet. Britton Chance, "The primary and secondary compounds of catalase and methyl or ethyl hydrogen peroxide: IV Reactions with hydrogen peroxide". J. Biol. Chem. 1949 180: 947-959. In this article, BC had confirmed and measured the second order rate constants of the reaction of nitrite with catalase. As the title implied this was one of 6 articles published in JBC the same year characterizing the biochemistry of catalase that had followed his original Nature article on the function of catalase in 1948.
I did not know what I was most impressed with; his scientific ingenuity, his incredible memory – this work was done nearly 45 years ago and he can still recall it and locate the reprint! – and of course the inventive desk design. All three is the simple answer.
– Harry Ischiropoulos