We all need a little luck if we are to prosper; the scientist is no exception to this rule. Many of the great discoveries in the world would perhaps never or at the best only much later –have been made were it not for the helping of fortune. This was certainly the case in the discovery of Vitamin B, a discovery which may be counted among the most important in the history of medical science.
In the second half of 19th century among the inhabitants of island in the Indonesian archipelago and elsewhere in south East Asia, thousand died every year from the notorious beri-beri, which owes its origin to the Sinhalese term for “I can’t manage it”-a very apt description of the situation in which victims of this catastrophic disease themselves.
In 1886, a committee of experts was sent out with instruction to uncover the mystery of the disease .among its members was a 28 year old Dutch specialist in tropical sicknesses name Christian Eijkman, an extremely retiring young man but possessed of a razor –sharp and critical mind and more than average willpower ,determination and idealism. As a member of the civilian beri–beri investigating committee, Eijkman’s work came under the control of civil administration. His one man laboratory, consisting of two modest rooms, was however in the military hospital building.
Among the scientists stock-in-trade were several heads of poultry used for experimental purpose, and Eijkman gratefully accepted an offer of scraps from the mess table as food for his chickens: these scraps mounted to the remains of boiled rice. A month after commencing with this diet, the hens developed a strange sickness; the bird became thinner, staggered with outspread legs across the run, became weaker and weaker until they fell over and could not get up again; finally they died. The disease intrigued Eijkman; there was a clear connection between the symptoms which the hens had displayed and symptoms of human beri-beri victims.
In November 19887, suddenly came salvation. The regulation minded Administrator discovered somewhere in his book that civilian poultry were not entitled to military rations, not even waste rice from the kitchens. He withdrew permission, where-upon Eijkman was forced to buy “gaba” cheap commenced to eat this than remarkable change took place in their condition, and before long the surviving birds are were restored to full health. Eijkman has stumbled across the truth, the cause of the sickness among his chickens and of beri-beri: the removal of the husk deprived the rice of an ingredient which was necessary to health!