Loewi, Otto, 1873-1961

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1873-06-03
Death 1961-12-25
Germans
German

Biographical notes:

German pharmacologist.

From the description of Autograph letters signed (3) : New York, New York, to the Brooklyn Medical Press, 1951 Jan. 31-1951 Mar. 16. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270591771

From the description of [Foreword to the Festschrift for the 80th Birthday of Rudolf Keller] : [New York] : autograph manuscript, 1955. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270593000

Physician and pharmacologist; best known for his research on the nervous system; won 1936 Nobel Prize along with Sir Henry Dale for discoveries related to the transmission of nerve impulses. Came to U.S. in 1940; Research Professor at NYU Med School.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : N.Y.U.-Bellevue Medical Center, Dept. of Pharmacology, to an unidentified recipient, [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270871359

In 1936 Otto Loewi and Sir Henry Hallet Dale were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for their discoveries relating to chemical transmission of nerve impulses. Only two years later he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Forced to hand over his share of the Nobel Prize money as ransom for his life, Loewi escaped to England without a penny to his name. In June 1940, armed with a doctor's certificate proclaiming his - "senility... not able to earn a living!" Loewi reached the United States to discover the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. During the summers he augmented his study of cells, their structure and how they function in relation to each other. As a permanent research professor at New York University College of Medicine, Loewi illustrated how a great mind honed on the Classics could perceive scientific truths that might otherwise have been overlooked.

From the description of Otto Loewi laboratory notebooks and correspondence, 1945-1954. (National Library of Medicine). WorldCat record id: 14315441

In 1936 Otto Loewi and Sir Henry Hallet Dale were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for their discoveries relating to chemical transmission of nerve impulses. Only two years later he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Forced to hand over his share of the Nobel Prize money as ransom for his life, Loewi escaped to England without a penny to his name. In June 1940, armed with a doctor's certificate proclaiming his - "senility... not able to earn a living!" Loewi reached the United States to discover the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. During the summers he augmented his study of cells, their structure and how they function in relation to each other. As a permanent research professor at New York University College of Medicine, Loewi illustrated how a great mind honed on the classics could perceive scientific truths that might otherwise have been overlooked.

From the guide to the Otto Loewi Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence, 1944-1960, (History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine)

Max Bergmann (February 12, 1886-November 7, 1944) was a biochemist, whose research proved key for the study of biochemical processes. His work on peptide synthesis and protein splitting provided a starting point for modern protein chemistry and the study of enzyme-substrate interactions. He is most noted for developing the carbobenzoxy protecting group, for the synthesis of oligopeptides, using any amino acid in any sequence. He co-authored with his colleague Joseph S. Fruton (1912-2007, APS 1967) several reviews in protein and enzyme chemistry, notably “Proteolytic Enzymes,” in the Annual Review of Biochemistry 10 (1941): 31-46 and “The Specificity of Proteinases,” in Advances in Enzymology 1 (1941): 63-98.

Bergmann was born in Fürth, Germany, the son of a coal merchant named Solomon Bergmann and his wife Rosalie Stettauer. He entered the University of Munich, initially interested in botany, but shifted to chemistry, after being convinced that biological questions could only be answered by the methods of organic chemistry. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1907, and afterward became a student of Emil Fischer (1838-1914, APS 1909), the foremost protein and carbohydrate chemist of the day at the University of Berlin. In 1911 Bergmann received a Ph.D. with a dissertation on acyl polysulfides and became Fischer’s research assistant. In 1912 Bergmann married Emmy Miriam Grunwald with whom he had two children. The marriage ended in divorce, and he remarried Martha Suter in 1926. During World War I Bergmann was exempted from military service because of his research work with Fischer. While working with Fischer, Bergmann made important contributions to carbohydrate, lipid, tannin and amino acid chemistry, developing new methods for the preparation of α-monoglycerides. In 1920 Bergmann was appointed Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and head of the chemistry department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Textile Research.

Bergmann left the University of Berlin in 1921 to become the director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Leather Research and Professor of chemistry at the Dresden Technical University. At Dresden, Bergmann created one of the world’s leading laboratories for the study of protein chemistry. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Bergmann, a Jew, emigrated to the United States. From 1934 until his death Bergmann was affiliated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York.

Bergmann represents the tradition of German organic chemistry applied to biological problems. Working with his mentor Fischer, who sought effective methods to separate and identify amino acids, and who identified the peptide bond as the structure that connects amino acids, Bergmann made many basic contributions to protein and amino acid chemistry. In Dresden he extended Fischer’s work of separating and identifying the amino acid constituents of proteins. In order to establish the conjecture of some protein chemists that proteins were, in fact, polypeptides, containing thousands of amino acids, Bergmann developed new methods of peptide synthesis. The most important discovery came in 1932, when he and his colleague Leonidas Zervas created the carbobenzoxy method allowing them to use any amino acid in any sequence to produce peptides and polypeptides that closely resembled naturally occurring proteins.

Bergmann continued this work in New York at the Rockefeller Institute, stressing two new lines of research: (1) expanding the carbobenzoxy method to form peptides that could serve as substrates for protein-splitting enzymes, and (2) unraveling the total structure of proteins. After becoming head of the chemistry laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in 1937, Bergmann recruited several talented biochemists. Along with his colleague Joseph Fruton, he discovered the first synthetic peptide substrates for which several enzymes were catalysts. When they demonstrated that the enzyme pepsin was able to catalyze the hydrolysis of synthetic peptides, they implicated the peptide bond in protein structure, but also provided the first clear evidence that specific enzymes split peptides at exact linkages in the chain. Their discovery cleared the path for study of how enzymes act as catalysts for every biological function.

Bergmann’s methods of analysis and synthesis proved incapable of solving the riddle of protein structure. He applied methods for separation and quantitative analysis to every amino acid in a protein in an attempt to establish their sequence in the polypeptide chain. In 1938 he proposed a theory of the systematic recurrence in the location of every amino acid residue in the peptide chain of a protein. However, his hypothesis proved an oversimplification. Two biochemists in his working group, Standford Moore and William Stein, showed him that the analytical data did not support his “periodic theory,” and Bergmann was forced to abandon it. Moore and Stein later collaborated in developing novel methods for quantitative analysis of amino acids in protein hydrolysates, methods they perfected after World War II. By 1949 it was possible to determine the order of the links of each amino acid in a protein. The Englishman Frederick Sanger was the first to establish the complete amino acid sequence in a protein, the hormone insulin. Moore and Stein followed by identifying the sequence of a more complex protein, the enzyme ribonuclease.

Bergman died of cancer in New York City on November 7, 1944. His mastery of peptide synthesis and protein splitting constituted the beginnings of modern protein chemistry. Bringing to the United States a background in German organic chemistry, he laid the foundations for the work of others, who would fulfill Bergmann’s goal of understanding and mapping the molecular structure of proteins and enzymes. His research colleagues found him a supportive leader and collaborator. He coauthored a number of publications with other members of his research group.

From the guide to the Max Bergmann papers, [ca. 1930]-1945, 1930-1945, (American Philosophical Society)

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Subjects:

  • Science--Societies, etc
  • Political refugees
  • Scientists, Refugee
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Neurophysiology
  • Chemistry--United States
  • Jewish scientists
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  • Biochemistry--United States
  • Neurochemistry
  • Scientists--United States

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  • Biochemists--United States

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