Virtanen was born in Helsinki, Finland. He completed his school education at the Classical Lyceum in Viipuri, Finland. He married the botanist Lilja Moisio in 1920 and had two sons with her. In 1933 he bought a farm near Helsinki where he tested some of his scientific results in practice. He saw in the overproduction of food only a temporary phenomenon. He loved the simple life, never had a car of his own, never smoked and never consumed alcohol. He died two weeks after a hip fracture, from complications.
Virtanen started studying chemistry 1913 earning his Master and in 1918 his Phd in organic chemistry. In 1919 he started to work in the laboratories of Valio, a large producer of dairy products and became director of the laboratory in 1920. Feeling not fully qualified and following his interest in botany and zoology lead him to further scientific education and so he left Valio and studied at the ETH, the University of Münster and the University of Stockholm, physical chemistry, soil chemistry and microbiology. In 1923 in Sweden he worked with Hans von Euler-Chelpin , who was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1929. Back in Finland he became lecturer at the University of Helsinki in 1924, known for his lectures on chemistry of life. He worked in the laboratory of the Butter Export Association, which became in fact a laboratory of the university. In 1930 the Institute for Biochemistry was founded and Virtanen stayed there until his death in 1973. He became professor of biochemistry at the Finnish Institute of Technology in Helsinki in 1931 and at the University of Helsinki in 1939.
His research started with work on the phosphorylation of hexoses in 1924. He was able to show that phosphorylation is the first step in many fermentation reactions, which was the foundation of the Embden-Meyerhof pathway. In 1925 his interests shifted to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the root nodules of leguminous plants. The improved methods of butter preservation, by adding disodium phosphate to prevent acidic hydrolysis. This method was in use for several decades in Finland. His research from 1925 till 1932 included the invention of a fodder preservation method (AIV Fodder). The method, patented in 1932, was basically a kind of silage that improved the storage of green fodder, which is important during long winters. The process includes adding dilute hydrochloric or sulfuric acid to newly stored grain. Increased acidity stops harmful fermentation and has no adverse effect on the nutritive value of the fodder or the animals it is fed to. In 1945, Virtanen became a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry "for his research and inventions in agricultural and nutrition chemistry. His later years studies included the development of partially synthetic cattle feeds. The nitrogen for the synthsis of amino acids normally comes fromproteins in the fodder. A special bacterial environment in the rumen of cattle allows to use urea and ammonium salts as source for the nitrogen instead of plant proteins like soybean or meat and bone meal.
The asteroid 1449 Virtanen, discovered by the renowned Finnish astronomer and physicist Yrjö Väisälä, was named after him.
* WH Brock (2001). "Virtanen, Artturi Ilmari". Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. doi:10.1038/npg.els.0002936.
* Jorma K. Miettinen (1975). "Artturi Ilmari Virtanen". Plant and Soil 43 (1-3): 229-234. doi:10.1007/BF01928489.
* R. A. Kyle; M. A. Shampo (1981). "Artturi Ilmari Virtanen". Journal of the American Medical Association 246: 150.
* Matti Kreula (1974). "In memoriam Artturi I. Virtanen 1895–1973". Zeitschrift für Ernährungswissenschaft 13 (1-2): 1-5. doi:10.1007/BF02025018.
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