Konrad Emil Bloch

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Neisse (Nysa), Silesia
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In 1964, Konrad Bloch and another German biochemist, Feodor Lynen, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their separate discoveries linked to the mechanism and control of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. He was a Jew who had to flee Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler rose to power. He sought sanctuary in Switzerland, then America, where he eventually became a naturalized American citizen. He did a lot of research in the United States. His research into the intricate mechanisms used by animal cells to create cholesterol helped to clarify the biochemistry of live creatures. Bloch’s research revealed the importance of cholesterol in animal cells, providing the groundwork for future research into the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of common illnesses. He also looked at every one of the twenty-seven carbon atoms in the cholesterol molecule. He demonstrated that the chemical molecule cholesterol evolves natural steroid-related compounds in humans through his research. He established many of the stages involved in the conversion of acetate to cholesterol. He studied the metabolism of olefinic fatty acids in later years of his career, as well as the essential antioxidant glutathione, which helped protein metabolism.

Childhood and Adolescence

He was born on January 21, 1912, in Neisse, Upper Silesia, then part of the German Empire, to Fritz Bloch and Hedwig née Striemer, as their second child, into a middle-class family.

He attended an elementary school before enrolling in the Realgymnasium. In 1930, he traveled to Munich and began studying chemistry and chemical engineering at the “Technical University of Munich” (TUM). Soon after, he became interested in organic chemistry and was inspired by the teachings of Hans Fischer, a German organic scientist, and Nobel Laureate.

At the Münchener Chemische Gesellschaft’s Sessions, he used to hear prominent organic chemists like Rudolf Willstätter, Heinrich Wieland, and Adolph Windaus. In such sessions, great scientists commenting on their findings on enzymes, steroids, and porphyrins had a huge impact on him.

He obtained his Diplom-Ingenieur in Chemistry in 1934. However, he was compelled to flee Germany due to Nazi atrocities against Jews and the emergence of Adolf Hitler.
He first settled in Davos, Switzerland, where he took temporary employment with the Swiss institute

‘Schweizerische Forschungsinstitut.’ When he was assigned to analyze the phospholipids of tubercle bacilli, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, he was introduced to biochemical investigations for the first time.

He traveled to the United States in 1936, where he enrolled at ‘Columbia University’ at the suggestion of the late Max Bergmann and with the help of the ‘Wallerstein Foundation.’ He enrolled at the university’s College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Department of Biochemistry.

Professor of Biological Chemistry Hans T. Clarke guided him, and he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the institution in 1938.

The Career of Konrad

After finishing his Ph.D., he was invited to join the research team of Rudolf Schoenheimer, a German-American biologist. From 1939 until 1946, he lived in Columbia and worked for a few years with Schoenheimer and his collaborator, US scientist David Rittenberg.

While working with Schoenheimer and his research team, he learned about the usage of radioisotopes. Bloch had a lifelong interest in the study of intermediary metabolism as well as biosynthesis difficulties, according to him.

Following Schoenheimer’s death in 1941, Bloch teamed up with Rittenberg and began work on biological cholesterol production. They discovered acetate as a significant component of cholesterol throughout their research. This was the start of his nearly two-decade-long study of the intricate pattern of processes involved in the biological synthesis of cholesterol.

He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1944.
In 1946, he relocated to Chicago and was hired as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the ‘University of Chicago.’ Aside from his studies on cholesterol biosynthesis, he and J. Snoke started looking into the enzymatic production of tripeptide glutathione.

In 1953, 1960, and 1975, he was given three Guggenheim Fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 1953, he worked at the ‘Organisch-Chemisches Institut’, ‘Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule’ in Zurich with Croatian-Swiss scientist and Nobel Laureate L. Ruzicka and Croatian-Swiss organic chemist V. Prelog and his partners.

In 1954, he was named Higgins Professor of Biochemistry at Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry. He was promoted to Chairman of the Department in 1968.
During this time, he looked into the origins of the 27 carbon atoms in the cholesterol molecule. He demonstrated that the body produces squalene from acetate and subsequently converts it to cholesterol, a discovery that was also discovered by Feodor Lynen, his Nobel Prize co-recipient.

Bloch and his colleagues employed radioactive acetate in bread mold to gradually discover that the origin of the carbon atom in cholesterol originated from the two-carbon molecule of acetate since fungi also created squalene. Bloch’s research revealed the importance of acetic acid in cholesterol creation as well as the importance of cholesterol as a component of bodily cells.

He discovered that bile and a female sex hormone are both made of cholesterol and that every steroid-related molecule in the human body is generated from cholesterol.
His studies on many areas of terpene and sterol biosynthesis went on. He became fascinated by the enzymatic synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids as well as the various aspects of biological evolution.

He was Chairman of the Section of Biochemistry at the National Academy of Sciences from 1966 to 1969.
He was elected President of the “American Society of Biological Chemists” in 1967.

Many universities awarded him honorary doctorates, including ‘Columbia University’ in 1967, ‘Technische Hochschule Munich in 1968, and ‘Brandeis University’ in 1970.

In 1968, he was elected Chairman of the National Committee of the ‘International Union of Biochemistry.’
He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, and the American Society of Biological Chemists, among others.

He was an honorary member of the ‘Lombardy Academy of Sciences and a Senior Fellow of the ‘Australian Academy of Science.’
Following his retirement from ‘Harvard University,’ he became the Mack and Effie Campbell Tyner Eminent Scholar Chair in the ‘College of Human Sciences’ at ‘Florida State University.’

In 1985, he was elected a Fellow of the ‘Royal Society.’

His Major Projects

His study on cholesterol manufacturing not only demonstrated the importance of cholesterol in the human body but also aided future research into how the human body regulates cholesterol levels in blood and tissue.

Achievements & Awards

Along with Feodor Lynen, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1964.

Personal History and Legacy

Lore Teutsch, his future wife, met in Munich and married in 1941 in the United States. They have two children, a son named Peter and a daughter named Susan.

He loved music, tennis, and skiing, and was well-known for his modesty.
He died on October 15, 2000, at the ‘Lahey Clinic’ in Burlington, Massachusetts, of congestive heart failure.

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