Biotin is a member of the vitamin B family. It is water soluble (dissolvable) and an important coenzyme. Biotin is involved in the metabolism (the process in living organisms and cells that breaks down food into nutrients and waste matter) of carbohydrates and in the synthesis (formation) of fatty acids. Like many vitamins, biotin was "discovered" several times by different people and was given a new name by each of its discoverers.

In the 1920s different researchers isolated a growth factor for yeast that some named "bios," and others called "vitamin H". In 1927, biochemist M.A. Boas was the first scientist to demonstrate a requirement for this compound in animals. Boas found that rats who were fed a diet high in raw egg whites soon developed severe skin rashes, lost their fur, and became paralyzed. This syndrome is known as "egg-white injury." Boas also found a substance in liver that could cure this injury. He called the substance "protective factor x." We now know that egg whites contain the protein and avidin, that—unless destroyed by heat—keeps biotin from being absorbed by the body.

Finally, in 1940, Vincent Du Vigneaud, an American biochemist working for a leading pharmaceutical company, realized that biotin was identical both to vitamin H and to "protective factor x." Intrigued by this discovery, Du Vigneaud went on to work out the coenzyme's complicated two-ring structure. Once the structure was known, it became possible for biotin to be synthesized.

Biotin is now known to be present in virtually every food. Moreover, the body can synthesize it from intestinal bacteria. A biotin deficiency, therefore, is extremely rare. It is usually seen in infants born with a genetic disorder and in people who eat large quantities of raw eggs.

[See also Vitamin ]

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