Vol. 6 No. 1 (2022)
Historical Articles

Lipids, Chloroform, and Their Intertwined Histories

Carlos Ramírez
Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
Bio

Published 2022-03-07

Keywords

  • lipids,
  • fatty acids,
  • cell membrane structure and function,
  • chloroform synthesis and uses,
  • lipid-based brain tissue components

How to Cite

Ramírez, C. (2022). Lipids, Chloroform, and Their Intertwined Histories. Substantia, 6(1), 133-143. https://doi.org/10.36253/Substantia-1498

Abstract

Lipids and their fatty acid constituents, in particular, have been the subject of academic and industrial research initiatives since their isolation by Michel-Eugène Chevreul in 1813.  Fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated, their physical properties depending on the aliphatic chain length and degree of saturation.  They constitute the building blocks of many lipid groups, such as triglycerides and phospholipids; are key additives in commercial foods, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics; and can cross cell membranes.  Chloroform was synthesized in 1831 by Samuel Guthrie and has had a tortuous history of interactions with mankind:  from an anesthetic in obstetrics, dentistry, and surgery, to being labeled as a potential carcinogen in the 1970s.  It has also had important nonmedical applications, such as in chemical engineering mass transfer systems designed to estimate binary gas diffusion coefficients.  Although chemically dissimilar, lipids and chloroform intertwined their scientific paths through the work of Jordi Folch and associates in the 1940s-1950s, in which many lipid-based brain molecules were isolated and characterized.  This article outlines the separate histories of lipids and chloroform, and those research initiatives in which they have acted synergistically.  The narrative covers the interplay of chemical compounds with different historical backgrounds, but with physical properties which continue to foster their modern-day interaction.

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