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Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(3):231-5. doi: 10.1159/000343112. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

A history of the isolation and identification of folic acid (folate).

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Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA. irwin.rosenberg @


In the 1930s, Lucy Wills identified a 'new hemopoietic factor' in yeast and liver which cured tropical macrocytic anemia in humans and experimental anemia in monkeys. Janet Watson and William B. Castle named the unknown substance, which would ultimately become a form of folate, 'Wills' factor'. Further studies with this unknown substance showed that it was active against nutritional pancytopenia in monkeys and experimental anemia in chicks, leading to various designations such as vitamin M (monkey) and vitamin B(c) (chick). Other factors with growth-promoting activity for microorganisms such as Lactobacillus casei were given the interim names including folic acid - in recognition of extracts from leafy greens. Competing pharmaceutical research groups headed by Robert Stokstad at Lederle Laboratories and Joseph John Pfiffner at Parke-Davis Research Laboratory independently isolated factors bearing the biological properties of Wills' factor and other unknown related factors including folic acid, Lederle Laboratories from a bacterial culture and Parke-Davis Laboratory from yeast and liver as a conjugate of folate. The new vitamin then was crystallized, chemically identified, and synthesized as pteroylglutamic acid and named folic acid between 1943 and 1945. Further studies of the monoglutamic folic acid and the yeast isolate polyglutamyl folate followed through the 1950s and to the present.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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