WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week – Allene Rosalind Jeanes (1906–1995)

Posted November 16, 2011 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

If you've ever lost a lot of blood and had a transfusion, thank Allene Rosalind Jeanes for saving your life. No near-death experiences? If you've ever enjoyed chewing gum, thick soups, or jellies, you should also thank Jeanes. She discovered how to make supporting ingredients dextran and xanthan in large quantities.

Dextran

Polysaccharides are polymers made of sugar molecules that are found in foods like corn and wheat and in fibers such as wood and paper. Jeanes discovered that a polysaccharide called dextran could be produced from the microbes in a certain bacteria.

Around the time of her discovery European researchers were considering the use of dextran as a blood plasma extender. An extender is not as helpful as blood - it doesn't carry oxygen to the cells - but it can keep someone in an emergency situation alive until they get a transfusion.

Jeanes created a blood plasma extender that contained dextran just in time for the Korean War in 1950. It saved many lives and entered the civilian world after the end of the war.

Xanthan

Xanthan gum is another polysaccharide synthesized by bacteria. It's derived from Xanthomonas campestris - the bacteria that causes black rot on leafy vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Xanthan gum is commonly used as a food thickening agent and stabilizer to keep ingredients from separating. It was approved for use by the FDA in 1968.

Some examples of its use include:

  • Thickening of ice cream
  • Preventing salad dressing from separating
  • Thickening of drilling mud in the petroleum industry

Education and Recognition

Jeanes received a bachelor's degree from Baylor University and then a master's degree from UC Berkeley in 1930. After teaching at Athens College for five years she received a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1938. Her focus was carbohydrates and she later went to work for a research laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Good work does not go unrecognized; Jeanes received:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture's Distinguished Service Award (1953)
  • Garvan Medal (1956)
  • Women's Service Award (1962)
  • Inducted into the ARS Science Hall of Fame (1999)

Resources:

http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/chemistry-in-history/themes/public-and-environmental-health/food-chemistry-and-nutrition/jeanes.aspx

http://www.humantouchofchemistry.com/allene-rosalind-jeanes.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthan_gum

http://www.ars.usda.gov/careers/hof/browse.htm [image]

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#1

Re: Woman of the Week – Allene Rosalind Jeanes (1906–1955)

11/16/2011 12:52 AM

This is the first time I have heard of Dr. Jeanes. Thanks for bringing her story to light.

(Editorial note: She lived to 1995.)

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Re: Woman of the Week – Allene Rosalind Jeanes (1906–1955)

11/16/2011 7:37 AM

Glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for pointing out the typo - it's been corrected.

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