Deeper into Jeopardy! V: Biology Class – $1000

Jeopardy! category: BIOLOGY CLASS (12-02-2014)

$1000 clue: In 1937 this German-born biochemist discovered the citric acid cycle that bears his name

Correct response

The gist: The citric acid cycle is the 10-step process through which all aerobic organisms on Earth produce the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) that lets us perform any and all biological functions that require energy, which is definitely most of them. The oxygen we breathe in is used to oxidize (meaning take an electron from) acetate, and the energy released through that process is stored in ATP, which can in turn be snapped apart, losing a phosphate group and becoming ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to get that energy back in order to do stuff. In eukaryotic cells like ours, the process takes place in those “factories of the cell” the mitochondria, while in prokaryotes, which don’t have mitochondria, it takes place in the cytosol.The cycle has two other names: the less common, more unwieldy “tricarboxylic acid cycle,” and the pleasingly simple “Krebs cycle,” named for its discoverer, Hans Krebs.* A German Jew, Krebs worked as a clinician at several prestigious institutions around Germany during the 1920s and early 30s. In 1933, with the rise of the Nazi Party, Jews were banned from practicing medicine and Krebs left his home country for England, where he was given a research position at Cambridge. Two years later he would take a new position at the University of Sheffield. In 1937, working off discoveries made through the 30s by Hungarian doctor Albert Szent-Györgyi, he discovered his eponymous cycle, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953 (and Szent-Györgyi won it in 1937 for his own work). The whole cycle is long and complicated, so instead of trying to explain it myself, I’ll let you peruse the following diagram in as much or as little detail as you like.

The Krebs cycle in its glory.

The clue: The last clue in the category is also the first to veer outside of straight science and into history-of-science territory, by asking for the scientist rather than the cycle. Still, you’re probably much more likely to know who Krebs is if you also have an idea of what his cycle does, so a scientist probably has a better chance at this one than a historian.

In Jeopardy!: Surprisingly to me, “Krebs” is only in eight clues in the J!Archive, and of those only four are about our Hans. Searching for “citric acid cycle” only gives two, both with Krebs as the correct response. Trying to search a little further into this one, I tried “German chemist,” and that returned only a few more at eleven, but outshining Krebs is Robert Bunsen, inventory his the famous Bunsen burner – and of course, each of those clues makes some allusion to either fire or lab equipment. I guess despite the importance of his work, Krebs isn’t not too crucial to trivia.

* Not “Kreb’s cycle” or “Krebs’ cycle.” It doesn’t belong to him, it’s just named for him.

3 thoughts on “Deeper into Jeopardy! V: Biology Class – $1000

  1. One critical trip-up to avoid in questions about the TCA (or Krebs) cycle: The name is NOT a possessive. That is, it’s the Krebs cycle, not Kreb’s cycle. Many people don’t realize this, so when asked for the name of the scientist, they say “Kreb” instead of “Krebs.”

    This came up a few times when I used to play university-level trivia, so to avoid the slip up, I always remember it as Krebs’s cycle, to remind me to retain the “s” on the end of the scientist’s name.

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