Albrecht Kossel

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Rostock, Germany
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Rostock, Germany

Albrecht Kossel was a renowned German biochemist who pioneered the science of genetics. In 1910, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the analysis of the chemical composition of nucleic acids, one of the genetic elements of biological organisms. His students and he used several procedures, such as hydrolysis, to isolate and chemically identify the five organic constituents or nucleobases of nucleic acids, namely adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil. These nucleobases are necessary for the production of the two forms of nucleic acid, DNA and RNA, the genetic material found in living organisms. He also undertook considerable study on the composition of proteins, discovering the amino acids histidine, agmatine, and thymic acid in the process. Professor of Physiology and later Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Marburg. In addition, he became the director of the “Heidelberg Institute for Protein Research.” He was a significant effect on his pupils and collaborated with some of them, including famous biochemistry researchers Henry Drysdale Dakin and Edwin B. Hart. He contributed to and then edited the Zeitschrift für Physiologische Chemie, a journal founded by the German physiologist and chemist Felix Hoppe-Seyler, who was also his professor and mentor.

Youth and Early Life

He was born in Rostock, Germany, on September 16, 1853, to Albrecht Karl Ludwig Enoch Kossel and Clara Jeppe Kossel as their oldest son. His father was a Prussian trader and consul.
He completed his secondary studies at the Rostock Gymnasium with a keen interest in botany and chemistry.

In the fall of 1872, he enrolled at the newly founded “University of Strasburg” to study medicine. He was mentored by the Head of the Department of Biochemistry, Felix Hoppe-Style, and was greatly inspired by his lectures and practical teachings, as well as those of Waldeyer, Anton de Bary, Baeyer, and August Kundt, among others.

In 1877, he passed the German medical license exam after completing his studies at the University of Rostock in his hometown.

Albrecht Kossel’s Career

In 1877, he began working as a research assistant at the ‘University of Strasburg’ for his former professor Felix Hoppe-Seyler. Friedrich Miescher, a former student of Felix Hoppe-Seyler, extracted nucleins from pus cells while conducting research at Hoppe-laboratory Seyler’s at the University of Tübingen, Germany, earlier in 1869. Miescher confirmed that nucleins were more acidic and phosphate-rich than protein, distinguishing them chemically.

Kossel demonstrated that nuclein, which is found in the nucleus of a cell, is composed of protein and non-protein components. Currently known as nucleic acid, this material holds the genetic information of all living cells.

He contributed to the early articles of the Zeitschrift für Physiologische Chemie (Journal of Physiological Chemistry), which Felix Hoppe-Seyler created in 1877. After Hoppe-death Seyler’s in 1895, Kossel became the journal’s editor, a position he held until his own passing.

In 1878, he acquired the degree of “Doctor of Medicine.”
Kossel departed Strassburg in 1883 to succeed Eugen Baumann as the Director of the Chemistry Division of the University of Berlin’s Physiological Institute. In response to Emil du Bois-invitation, Reymond’s he entered the “University of Berlin.”

During the period between 1885 and 1901, he successfully studied and isolated the five constituents of nucleic acid. He assigned the names thymine, cytosine, adenine, guanine, and uracil to the five chemical substances, which are now collectively known as nucleobases. These nucleobases are important for the production of stable molecules of the two forms of nucleic acid, DNA and RNA, as they are.

In April 1895, he moved to the city of Marburg in the state of Hessen in central Germany, where he served as Ordinary Professor of Physiology and Director of the ‘Institute of Physiology’ at the ‘University of Marburg’.

During this time, he began to investigate the chemical makeup of proteins, the changes in proteins during the transformation into peptones, the simplest proteins, the peptide components of cells, and the impact of a phenetol-based diet on urine, among other topics.

Histidine, a -amino acid utilized in the production of proteins, was discovered by him. In addition, he devised a method for quantitatively separating the hexone bases (the -amino acids lysine, histidine, and arginine).

Kossel was the first to isolate the methylxanthine medicinal medication Theophylline, which is used to treat respiratory disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The substance is naturally present in cocoa beans and tea.

He joined the ‘Heidelberg University’ in 1901 as Director of the ‘Heidelberg Institute for Protein Investigation’, a position similar to the one he had at the ‘University of Marburg’. His research focused on the discovery of the polypeptide nature of protein molecules.

During his time at “Heidelberg University,” Kossel and his renowned English student Henry Drysdale Dakin studied the hydrolysis of arginine into ornithine and urea by the ferment arginase. He also identified agmatine in the roe of herring and devised a method for its preparation.

In his final years, he conducted extensive research on the composition of specific protein types, including histones and protamines. During this time, he also made the discovery of flavianic acid.
In 1923, he was appointed Germany’s delegate to the Eleventh Physiological Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. The scientists gathering at the convention gave him a prolonged ovation that lasted several minutes. At the venue, the ‘University of Edinburgh’ awarded him an honorary degree.

In 1924, he became a professor emeritus but continued to teach at Heidelberg University.
In April 1927, he traveled to England to attend the Lister Centennial Celebration.

He was a member of numerous academies, institutes, and organizations, such as the “Royal Society of Sciences of Uppsala” and “The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.”
Several universities, including Cambridge, Ghent, St. Andrews, and Dublin, conferred on him honorary doctorates.

His notable works include ‘Untersuchungen über die Nukleine und ihre Spaltungsprodukte’ in 1881, ‘Leitfaden für medizinisch-chemische Kurse’ in 1888, ‘Die Gewebe des menschlichen Körpers und ihre mikroskopische Untersuchung’ from 1889 to 1891, and ‘Die Beziehungen der Chemie zur Physiologie’ from 1891 to 1893.

Honors & Accomplishments

On December 10, 1910, his study on cell biology and contributions to the determination of the chemical makeup of nucleic acids earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1886, he married Luise Holtzman. She was the daughter of Adolf Holtzmann, a distinguished philologist and professor at Heidelberg University.
The couple had three children, two of whom lived to maturity: son Walther (born in 1888) and daughter Gertrude (born in 1889).

His son Walther Kossel was a distinguished scientist who served as a professor of theoretical physics and director of the ‘Physics Institute’ at the University of Tübingen. Walther Kossel is well known for discovering the Sommerfeld–Kossel displacement law with Sommerfeld.
On July 5, 1927, Albrecht Kossel succumbed to recurrent angina pectoris attacks. His burial took place at Heidelberg, Germany.

Estimated Net worth



His name is on the ‘Albrecht Kossel Institute for Neuroregeneration’ at the ‘University of Rostock’.