ASBMB Past Presidents

1909 – Otto K. O. Folin




Otto Knut Olof Folin was born in Sweden, but at age 15 he was sent by his parents to Minnesota to join two brothers and an aunt. He was educated at the University of Minnesota, from which he received his B.S. in 1892, and the University of Chicago, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1898. After a time in Germany and Sweden learning physiological chemistry, he was employed as an industrial chemist and served as professor at the University of West Virginia. He then transferred to a nonacademic post as a research biochemist at McLean Hospital in Waverly, Massachusetts. He remained at McLean for 7 years and in 1907 became an associate professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the Harvard University School of Medicine. Folin later became Hamilton Kuhn Professor of Biological Chemistry at Harvard (1909) and held that position until his death.

Folin's research covered a wide range of topics, especially in the field of nutrition. In 1905, he published three seminal papers in the American Journal of Physiology. The papers reported methods for the analysis of urine for urea, ammonia, creatine, creatinine, and uric acid, the major nonprotein nitrogen-containing compounds in urine. Unlike previous analytical methods for these compounds, Folin's methods were relatively specific and sensitive so that small sample volumes were adequate. Folin then turned his attention to applying the analytical methods he had developed for urinalysis to the analysis of blood. Among Folin's many lasting contributions was his development, along with Vintila Ciocalteu, of the "phenol reagent" for use in protein determinations. This reagent is the basis of the Lowry method for protein determination. Folin's work was featured in two Journal of Biological Chemistry Classics (1, 2).

Folin was the third president of the American Society of Biological Chemists in 1909 and was a member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board for more than 25 years starting with the first issue in 1905. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Scheele Medal of the Stockholm Chemical Society in 1930

1. Simoni, R. D., Hill, R. L., and Vaughan, M. (2002) Analytical biochemistry: The work of Otto Knut Olof Folin on blood analysis. J. Biol. Chem. 277 (20)

2. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2005) The most highly cited paper in publishing history: "Protein Determination" by Oliver H. Lowry. J. Biol. Chem. 280 (28)