In the mid-1950s, Bert Lester Vallee and his colleague Marvin Margoshes discovered a molecule referred to today as metallothionein (MT). Meanwhile, MTs have been shown to be common in many biological organisms. Despite their prevalence, however, it remains unclear to date what exactly MTs do and how they contribute to the biological function of an organism or organ. We investigate why biochemical research has not yet been able to pinpoint the function(s) of MTs. We shall systematically examine both the discovery of and recent research on Dr. Vallee’s beloved family of MT proteins utilizing tools from philosophy of science. Our analysis highlights that Vallee’s initial work exhibited features prototypical of a developing research tradition: it was upward-looking, exploratory, and utilized mere interactions. Since the 1960s, MT research has increasingly become intervention- and hypothesis-based while it remained largely upward-looking in character. Whilst there is no reason to think that upward-looking research cannot successfully yield structure-function mappings, it has not yet been successful in the case of MTs. Thus, we suggest it might be time to change track and consider other research strategies looking into the evolution of MTs. Recent studies in mollusks render research in this direction worthy of pursuit.