Pirie, N. W. (Norman Wingate), 1907-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1907-07-01
Death 1997-03-29
English

Biographical notes:

Epithet: biochemist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001035.0x000392

The material in this personal Pirie archive in part supplements that presented in the Catalogue of the Papers of Sir Frederick Charles Bawden including papers of Alfred Alexander Peter Kleczkowski and Norman Wingate Pirie (CSAC 37/1/76), processed by the Unit for deposit in the Royal Society in 1976.Norman Wingate ('Bill') Pirie was born in Torrance, Stirlingshire, on 1 July 1907. After attending various schools in Scotland and England he completed his schooling at Rydal School, Colwyn Bay. He entered Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1925 to study for the Natural Science Tripos. Pirie specialised in biochemistry for Part II, attracted by the liveliness of the Biochemistry Department under Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, who had assembled a team of highly talented young biochemists including J.B.S. Haldane, J. Needham and D. Keilin. He graduated B.A. in 1929 and was appointed Demonstrator in the Department of Biochemistry and received an Emmanuel College research fellowship. For the following five years Pirie worked on the purification on sulphur compounds, studying the chemistry and metabolism of compounds such as methionine and glutathione. In 1932 he began research with A.A. (later Sir Ashley) Miles on the bacteria Brucella abortus and Brucella mellitensis. He retained an active interest in this research through the 1930s and 1940s.

The material in this personal Pirie archive in part supplements that presented in the Catalogue of the Papers of Sir Frederick Charles Bawden including papers of Alfred Alexander Peter Kleczkowski and Norman Wingate Pirie (CSAC 37/1/76), processed by the Unit for deposit in the Royal Society in 1976.In 1934 he began his longstanding collaborative research with the biochemist F.C. (later Sir Frederick) Bawden, then with the Potato Virus Research Unit in Cambridge, on viruses responsible for potato disease. Their work demonstrated conclusively that the genetic material found in all viruses is ribonucleic acid (RNA) and thus contradicted the view of Wendell Stanley, who had thought the viruses consisted entirely of protein. Bawden and Pirie realized that RNA might be the infective component of viruses but they were unable to confirm this experimentally, and it was not until 1956 that this was established by others. Bawden had moved to the Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, in 1936 and in 1940 Pirie moved there himself, having been appointed Virus Physiologist. He became Head of the Biochemistry Department in 1947.

The material in this personal Pirie archive in part supplements that presented in the Catalogue of the Papers of Sir Frederick Charles Bawden including papers of Alfred Alexander Peter Kleczkowski and Norman Wingate Pirie (CSAC 37/1/76), processed by the Unit for deposit in the Royal Society in 1976.Pirie's research into plant viruses had initiated his interest in properties and uses of leaf protein. Wartime food shortages prompted investigative work on the large-scale extraction of leaf protein for human food and tests were undertaken at Rothamsted. After the war Pirie continued this line of research, with support from the Rockefeller and Wolfson Foundations and later the International Biological Programme he worked on methods of extraction. Although the potential of leaves as a human protein source had first been mooted in 1773, the full significance of it was not recognised until the twentieth century. Pirie was the first to develop a practical technology for its extraction. Pirie argued that in many climates more edible protein could be obtained by cultivation of leaf crops than any other form of cultivation. Much of his attention was given to studying suitable plants and to developing equipment for efficient small-scale or household production of leaf protein, particularly in the developing world. He was also interested in marketing it as suitable for human consumption through use in recipes.

The material in this personal Pirie archive in part supplements that presented in the Catalogue of the Papers of Sir Frederick Charles Bawden including papers of Alfred Alexander Peter Kleczkowski and Norman Wingate Pirie (CSAC 37/1/76), processed by the Unit for deposit in the Royal Society in 1976.Pirie was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1949, 'for his researches on plant viruses, especially as regards their isolation and their chemical and physical properties. With F.C. Bawden he was responsible for demonstrating that tobacco mosaic virus and several other plant viruses were nucleoproteins. These two workers were the first to isolate a plant virus in 3-dimensional crystalline form. Much of the recent work on plant viruses has been stimulated by these important discoveries. In addition Pirie has worked on the chemistry of antigens and has also concerned himself with the assessment of purity of large molecules of biological interest'. Pirie gave the Royal Society Leeuwenhoek Lecture for 1963 and was awarded its Copley Medal in 1971 'in recognition of his distinguished contributions to biochemistry and especially for his elucidation of the nature of plant viruses'. In 1976 he received the first Rank Prize for Nutrition and Agronomy.

Pirie died 29 March 1997. His wife, the ophthalmologist Antoinette Pirie with whom he had a son and a daughter, predeceased him in 1991.

From the guide to the Papers and correspondence of Norman Wingate Pirie FRS (1907-1997), biochemist, 1929-1999, (Royal Society, London)

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  • Biochemistry

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