The Discovery of the Essential Trace Elements: An Outline of the History of Biological Trace Element Research

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Abstract

After decades of intense research activity on organic nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, and hormones, investigators from different disciplines in recent years have directed their attention increasingly to the long neglected inorganic nutrients, and in particular the trace elements. Recent extraordinary developments have created a need for a concise account of the major advancements in this field for specialists as well as for members of neighboring disciplines. The present monograph is intended to fill this need. Responding to the invitation of the editor to contribute an introductory chapter to this volume, I have prepared a brief account of the history of biological trace element research, concentrating on individual discoveries of the essentiality of elements for animals and man. It is dedicated to the memory of three men who deserve prominent positions in the Hall of Fame of biological trace element research: to Jules Raulin (1836–1896), for his contribution to the development of the concept of “essentiality”; to Klaus Schwarz (1914–1978), uniquely successful discoverer of new essential trace elements; and to Eric J. Underwood (1905–1980), researcher, author, and until his death one of the unifying philosophical leaders in the field (Carles, 1972; Schrauzer, 1979, 1980).