WASHINGTON D.C. May 4, 2017—An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist will become the newest member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame tonight during ceremonies at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. She is receiving the award posthumously.
Dr. Allene Rosalind Jeanes, who died in 1995, used her background in carbohydrate chemistry to save countless lives on the battlefields of Korea and during the years that followed. Jeanes studied how bacteria could produce polymers in corn, wheat and wood. Her research led to the discovery of ways to mass-produce dextran, a type of polymer, for use as a blood volume “expander” to sustain accident and trauma victims suffering from significant blood loss. The methods Jeanes developed led to commercial-scale production and use of dextran during the Korean War.
Jeanes also developed xanthan gum, a sugar synthesized by bacteria. Approved in 1968 by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive, xanthan gum is widely used today in products such as toothpaste, egg substitutes, ice cream and some gluten-free foods.
“Dr. Jeanes’ contributions show the lasting value of ARS research,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, ARS administrator. “Every day, our scientists are making a difference for Americans and are adding to the proud legacy of the researchers who proceeded them—like Rosalind Jeanes.”
Jeanes, who worked in Peoria from 1941 to 1976, was elected to the ARS Science Hall of Fame in 1999 and was the first woman awarded the USDA Distinguished Service Award. She also received the Federal Woman’s Service Award from President Kennedy in 1962.
Research in the 1940s showed that dextran had the potential to help accident and trauma victims suffering serious blood loss by restoring lost electrolytes and maintaining blood pressure. Jeanes was interested in dextran for years, but couldn’t find quantities large enough for meaningful research. That changed when a soft drink company in Peoria sent her a sample of its product. The company wanted to know why its product had become thick and gooey. Jeanes learned that the root beer was contaminated with a bacterium that produced dextran. The discovery of this dextran-producing microbe meant Jeanes could produce all the dextran she needed.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Jeanes and her colleagues were able to make a dextran-based blood volume expander that the Army put to immediate use. The blood volume expander lasted longer than blood plasma without refrigeration. Sterilized to prevent infections, it was one-third the cost of plasma and remained viable long enough to keep patients alive until they could get a transfusion.
A YouTube video about Jeanes is available at https://youtu.be/tgAkIsUoaNA.