Born In: Lemvig, Denmark
Jens Christian Skou was a Danish scientist and medical doctor who is credited for the discovery of an ion-transporting enzyme, sodium potassium activated adenosine triphosphate (Na+ K+-ATPase). The discovery earned him a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, half of which he shared with Paul Boyer and John E Walker. A student of medicine, Skou’s interest in research grew while he was investigating the active mechanism of local anaesthetic drugs. In the late 1950s, he discovered the fact that nerve cell membranes of crabs contain an enzyme, sodium potassium ATPase, which in the form of the sodium potassium pump helps to maintain the salt balance between the cells and the tissue fluid by pumping sodium ions out of the cells and potassium ions into the cells. This, in turn, helped in maintaining a high intracellular concentration of potassium and a low concentration of sodium relative to the surrounding external environment. His work also led to the discovery of similar ATPase-based enzymes, including the ion pump that controls muscle contraction. Apart from carrying out research work, Skou also held important academic positions.
Also Known As: Jens Christian Skou
Died At Age: 99
father: Magnus Martinus Skou
mother: Ane-Margrethe Skou
Born Country: Denmark
place of death: Risskov, Denmark
Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Chemistry
education: University of Copenhagen
awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Tragedy struck the Skous’ early in life when senior Skou died of pneumonia. Jens was only twelve then. However, the early loss did not disrupt the family’s economical and financial status, as his uncle took great care of the business along with his mother as a passive partner.
When Jens Skou turned fifteen, he was enrolled at a boarding school in Haslev, Zealand, since there was no gymnasium or high school in Lemvig. While at the gymnasium, Skou found himself attracted to science and mathematics. In 1937, he appeared for the final examination.
He temporarily served at the Orthopaedic Hospital in Aarhus before terminating his clinical training in 1947, and taking up a position at the Institute for Medical Physiology at Aarhus University under Professor Soren L Orksov. It was while at the university that he worked to finish his doctoral thesis on the anaesthetic and toxic mechanism of action of local anaesthetics.
Apart from working at the Institute of Physiology and writing his doctoral thesis, Skou took up an extra job as a doctor on call one night a week in 1949. This fulfilled his wish of serving as a medical doctor. While serving as a doctor, Skou became a social democrat from a political conservative and realized the need and importance of free education and free medical care in the society.
It was while attending a conference in Vienna in 1958, that Skou first met Robert Post. Post had discovered the fact that three sodium ions were pumped out of the cell for every two potassium ions pumped in. Through his research, he had made use of a substance called ouabain to inhibit the pump. When Skou became aware of the fact, he soon realized the establishment of a link between the enzyme and the sodium-potassium pump.
In 1963, Skou became the chairman of the Institute of Physiology at Aarhus University and served in this position until 1978. Meanwhile, in 1977, Skou was appointed as a professor of biophysics. He retired from the Aarhus University in 1988. Though he gave up on systematic experimental work, he continued to work on kinetic models for the overall reaction of the pump on computer. He kept his offices at the Department of Physiology.
Skou’s most important contribution in the field of biochemistry came during the late 1950s. As a result of his experimentation and research, he proposed that an enzyme is responsible for the transport of molecules through a cell’s membrane. He discovered that the nerve cell membranes of crabs contain an enzyme, sodium potassium ATPase, which in the form of the sodium potassium pump helps to maintain the salt balance between the cells and the tissue fluid by pumping sodium ions out of the cells and potassium ions into the cells. This, in turn, helps in maintaining a high intracellular concentration of potassium and a low concentration of sodium relative to the surrounding external environment.
Skou was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, for his discovery of Na+K+-ATPase. He shared the other half of the prize with Paul D. Boyer and John E. Walker.
While training in Hjørring, Skou befriended a medical probationer, Ellen Margrethe Nielsen. The two shared a great rapport. When Neilson completed her graduation in nursing, she moved to Aarhus where the two married in 1948. The couple was blessed with a daughter in 1950, who died a year and a half later. In 1952 and 1954, they were blessed yet again with two more daughters.
Jens C Skou died on May 28, 2018, in Denmark. He was 99.
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