Fri . 19 Mar 2019

Russell Earl Marker

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Russell Earl Marker March 12, 1902 – March 3, 1995 was an American chemist who invented the octane rating system when he was working at the Ethyl Corporation Later in his career, he went on to found a steroid industry in Mexico when he successfully made semisynthetic progesterone from chemical constituents found in Mexican yams in a process known as Marker degradation This eventually led to the development at Syntex of the combined oral contraceptive pill and synthetic cortisone - and to the development of the Mexican barbasco trade


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Marker Degradation
  • 3 Honors
  • 4 References


He was born on March 12, 1902 in Hagerstown, Maryland He received his BS in 1923 from the University of Maryland and an MS in physical chemistry in 1924 from the same institution

In 1926, he married Mildred Collins 1899–1985 and worked as an analytical chemist at the Naval Powder Factory in Indian Head, Maryland He then began work at the Ethyl Corporation where he came up with the concept of the octane rating

In 1938, he proposed a new molecular structure for sarsasapogenin where the side chain was chemically reactive due to the two oxygen atoms connected to the same carbon The newly found reactivity of the side chain can be used to remove most of the atoms in the side chain After most of the atoms are removed from the side chain, a steroid ring is left After a few chemical modifications, a steroid ring can lead to the creation of progesterone This was the first practical synthesis of progesterone It was also a precursor in the preparation of cortisone

When Marker found that there was a similar structure to sarsasapogenin in Beth Roots, a member of the lily family, he began his work to develop the Marker degradation

In March 1944 he formed Syntex He left the company in May 1945 to found Botanica-Mex In 1949 he left Botanica-Mex He died on Friday, March 3, 1995

Marker Degradation

Emeric Somlo, Federico Lehmann and Russell Marker came together to make a new company in Mexico named Syntex SA This company used Mexican plant, Cabeza de Negro Dioscorea mexicana, to create progesterone Species of the genus Dioscorea contain diosgenin: a saponin similar to the structure of sarsasapogenin found in beth root In March 1944, the company made the first kilo of progesterone, which was sold at $50/gram After a dispute in the company in 1945, Marker severed ties with Syntex SA Because Marker was the only person in the company who knew how to do the synthesis of progesterone, they could no longer produce the drug Marker however went to work with Botanica-mex, a company based in Texcoco The company later was sold to Gedeon Richter Ltd where they started using both cabeza de negro and barbasco yam to make progesterone

Today, progesterone can be used to make cortisone and oral contraceptives


  • Mexican Chemical Society at the VI International Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Products in Mexico City 1969
  • Chemical Congress of North America 1975
  • Lecture series in astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, genetics, math, and physical sciences are held annually at Penn State in Russell Marker's honor


  1. ^ a b c d e "Marker Degradation: Creation of the Mexican Steroid Hormone Industry" PDF American Chemical Society Retrieved 2017-11-04 
  2. ^ Lehmann P, Bolivar A, Quintero R 1973 "Russell E Marker - Pioneer of the Mexican steroid industry" Journal of Chemical Education ACS 50 3: 195–9 Bibcode:1973JChEd50195L doi:101021/ed050p195 PMID 4569922 
  3. ^ Loriaux, D Lynn 2008 "Russell Earl Marker 1902–1995" The Endocrinologist 18 3: 107 doi:101097/TEN0b013e31817d4077 
  4. ^ "Russell Earl Marker" Science History Institute Retrieved 21 March 2018 
  5. ^ The New York Times OBITUARIES, Thursday, March 9, 1995

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