Friday, August 10, 2012

Pure Enjoyment

Consider all the English words based around the Greek word logos--derived words like catalog, prologue, dialogue, logogram, zoology, even's a root word with countless derivatives. Logos is to words what the substance purine is to the chemistry of life.

Purine is ubiquitous and underlies a great deal of biochemistry. It, along with the even simpler pyrimidine, are the core base pairs in DNA and RNA. Purine is also the basis for a surprising number of familiar Genußmittel--things like caffeine and theobromine (the stimulant in chocolate). The German word Genußmittel is bit like Schadenfreude and has no literal equivalent--the best translation is perhaps "means of enjoyment."  Our own English word (which the French also use) is stimulant.

Of course, purines are not everything--there are also sugars, and amino acids too, which are completely different entities.  Diversity. But we owe our first taste of purine, and the apt name, to a German chemist named Emil Fischer.

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