Lafayette Benedict Mendel was born in Delhi, New York. He entered Yale College in 1887, the youngest member in his class, and graduated with the degree of B.A. in 1891. He then undertook graduate studies in physiological chemistry at the Sheffield Scientific School with Russell H. Chittenden. Mendel's thesis was on the synthesis of a protein derived from hemp seed, and he received his Ph.D. in 1893. Mendel was then appointed assistant in the Sheffield Laboratory of Physiological Chemistry, marking the start of a 42-year teaching career at Yale. In 1897 he advanced to the rank of assistant professor in the Sheffield Scientific School, and in 1903 he was made professor of physiological chemistry with membership on the governing board of the Sheffield Scientific School. In 1921 he was appointed Sterling Professor of Physiological Chemistry, with membership in the faculties of the graduate and medical schools and the Sheffield Scientific School.
Mendel is best known for his contributions to the field of nutrition. He collaborated with Thomas B. Osborne, and together they authored more than 100 papers dealing with nutrition. Their first work involved ricin albumin, a poisonous protein derived from castor beans. They discovered a variety of substances that were necessary for a healthy diet, such as vitamin A, vitamin B, lysine, and tryptophan, and established the fact that the body must receive certain nutrients through diet. Some of Mendel's work was featured in a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1).
Mendel was a member of the American Medical Association's Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, a member of the John Simon Guggenheim Medical Foundation Educational Advisory Board, the first president of the American Institute of Nutrition, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. In 1913 he was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1927 the gold medal of the American Institute of Chemists was given to him, and in 1935 the Chemist's Club of New York gave him the Conné Medal. Mendel was one of the first 81 members of the American Society of Biological Chemists and continued to be very active in the Society, serving as the founding treasurer and as both vice president and president.
1. Simoni, R. D., Hill, R. L., and Vaughan, M. (2002) Nutritional biochemistry and the amino acid composition of proteins: The early years of protein chemistry. The work of Thomas B. Osborne and Lafayette B. Mendel. J. Biol. Chem. 277 (18)