NICOLAS-THEODORE  GOBLEY

He was born in Paris  (France) on the 11 May 1811 and died in Bagnères-de-Luchon (France) on the 1 September 1876.

As a young boy he worked with a famous chemist and pharmacist Pierre Robiquet. After studying pharmacy in Paris where he was internship in an hospital, he purchased its own pharmacy in 1837 in Paris and kept it until 1861. Besides its professional tasks, he found time to make several researches and get a reputation of distinguished chemist. He served as "professeur agrégé" at the school of Pharmacy from 1842 to 1847. In 1861 he was elected to the Academy of Medicine.

His most significant work concerned the chemistry of phospholipids. Thus, he investigated the lipids of egg yolk, fish milt and fish eggs, blood, bile, and especially brain tissue.
In 1845 he discovered in egg yolk a phosphorylated lipid which he named "lecithin" in 1850 (in greek lekithos means egg yolk). While he was unable at that time to describe the true structure of that compound, he noted that its hydrolysis yielded fatty acids and glycerophosphoric acid.

"Sur l'existence des acides oléique, margarique et phosphoglycérique dans le jaune d'oeuf. Premier Mémoire: Sur la composition chimique du jaune d'oeuf; par M. Gobley. (Extrait). C R  hebd Acad Sci 1845, 21, 766"

In 1846, three famous chemists, Chevreul, Dumas and Pelouze, made a report for the Académie des Sciences on the previous Gobley's memoir and insisted on his discovery of  glycerophosphoric acid:

"La partie la plus intéressante peut-être du jaune d'oeuf, celle qui contient le phosphore qu'on sait y exister en grande quantité, a été l'objet des recherches persévérantes de M. Gobley, et ces recherches ont été couronnées d'un succès réel, car il a fait connaitre l'état de combinaison jusqu'alors tout à fait ignoré sous lequel le phosphore existe dans l'oeuf .....L'un de nous avait déjà trouvé l'acide phosphoglycérique, ... mais personne n'avait pensé que cet acide, jusque là produit exclusivement par l'art, pût exister dans la nature, et M. Gobley, qui l'a découvert dans le jaune d'oeuf, s'est assuré, par des expériences nombreuses, des analyses exactes, de la parfaite identité de l'acide phosphoglycérique extrait de l'oeuf avec celui qu'on obtient directement en unissant la glycérine à l'acide phosphorique. Au point de vue physiologique, comme sous le rapport chimique, ce résultat est d'un grand intérêt."


At the same time, in 1845,  he confirmed the presence of cholesterol in egg yolk which was previously reported by Lecanu and discovered by Chevreul in biliary stones, but was unable to separate the yellow and red pigments previously described by Chevreul. He determined the content of egg yolk in oil (21.3 g %) and in cholesterol (0.44 g %).

"Recherches chimiques sur le jaune d'oeuf; par M. Gobley. Deuxième Mémoire. C R hebd Acad Sci 1845, 21, 988".

In 1847 Gobley reported his work on brain tissue comparing its lipid content to that of egg yolk (Recherches chimiques sur le jaune d'oeuf - Examen comparatif du jaune d'oeuf et de la matière cérébrale. J Pharm Chim 1847, 11, 409).
He described the presence in the chick brain of a lipidic substance containing phosphorus similar to that present in egg yolk.

In a paper published in 1847, again on the chemistry of egg yolk (J Pharm Chim 1847, 12, 5), he affirmed again that brain tissue and egg yolk contain a phophor-rich substance containing fatty acids. Gobley can thus effectively be considered the discoverer of phospholipids:

"J'ai répété toutes ces expériences avec la matière  visqueuse phosphorée de la cervelle du poulet, du mouton et de l'homme, et je sui arrivé  aux mêmes résultats. Il existe donc dans le cerveau, comme dand le jaune d'oeuf, une substance phosphorée qui, dans les conditions où je l'ai placée, m'a toujours donné, pour produits de décomposition, de l'acide oléique, de l'acide margarique et de l'acide phosphoglycérique"


Later, he published several papers to summarize the results of his work on the chemistry of the brain. The best known is:

"Recherches chimiques sur le cerveau; par M. Gobley. J Pharm Chim 1874, 20, 98-99, 161-166"

The same year, he published a paper on the chemical properties of lecithin and "cerebrine" (J Pharm Chim 1874, 19, 346). After the discovery of choline by Strecker in bile fluid in 1856, he stated that this compound  comes from the splitting of lecithin. Thus, Gobley can be considered also as the discoverer of what we call today phosphatidylcholine.

He collaborated with the physiologist JLM Poiseuille in a study of urea in blood as well as in urine. His research on oil led him to invented the first physical instrument devoted to these substances and called "élaïomètre", this instrument described in 1843 was used to test the purity of commercial olive oil. 

"Note sur l'Elaïomètre, nouvel instrument d'essai pour les huiles  d'olive. M. Gobley. J Pharm Chim 1843, 4, 285".