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Fellows Directory

Alan Battersby

Sir Alan Battersby FRS


Elected: 1966


Alan Battersby was an organic chemist and was distinguished for his research on vitamin B12, chlorophyll and haem — dubbed the ‘pigments of life’ — as well as plant alkaloids, which are used to make certain anaesthetics and pain medication, including morphine. Particularly notable was Alan’s work on the structure and artificial production of cyanocobalamin, a chemical compound used to treat people with vitamin B12 deficiency.

Alan successfully identified many biogenetic precursors — chemicals that precede others in metabolic reactions. He deduced biochemical reaction pathways by following the decay of radioactive tracers — a technique in which a particular element in a compound or biomolecule is replaced with its corresponding radioactive partner, or isotope.

Alan’s many accolades included the Copley Medal of the Royal Society and he was jointly awarded the 1989 Wolf Prize in Chemistry and also received the 1995 Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity. In 2000, he was a joint recipient of the Welch Award for his lifetime achievements in biosynthesis and biochemistry. Alan was knighted in 1992.

Sir Alan Battersby died on 10 February 2018.

Interests and expertise

Subject groups


  • Bakerian Medal and Lecture

    On 'Biosynthesis of the pigments of life'.

  • Copley Medal

    In recognition of his pioneering work in elucidating the detailed biosynthetic pathways to all the major families of plant alkaloids. His approach, which stands as a paradigm for future biosynthetic studies on complex molecules, combines isolation work, structure determination, synthesis, isotopic labelling and spectroscopy, especially advanced NMR, as well as genetics and molecular biology. This spectacular research revealed the entire pathway to vitamin B12.

  • Davy Medal

    In recognition of his outstanding and internationally recognized contributions to biosynthesis - his meticulous and logical unravelling of the complex pathways by which alkaloids and porphyrins are elaborated in vivo.

  • Royal Medals

    In recognition of his distinguished contributions to the elucidation of the pathway for the biosynthesis of complex natural products.

  • Wolf Prize

    In the field of chemistry for their fundamental contributions to the elucidation of the mechanism of enzymic reactions and of the biosynthesis of natural products, in particular the pigments of life.