Famous scholars from Kiel:
The Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry is regarded as one of the fathers of modern biochemistry. The man who discovered cell-free fermentation was active at Kiel between 1893 and 1896.
Little is known about Eduard Buchner's time at Kiel, as there are only few scientific publications dating from this era. "He always went to Munich to stay with his brother, the physician Hans Buchner, during his holidays, where he worked on yeast juice", says Professor Roland Schauer, Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Biochemistry. Shortly after Buchner had left Kiel, he made the chance discovery that led to the award of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1907. He was producing yeast cell-free extracts for his brother, who wanted to use these for immunological applications. For the purposes of preserving the protein extract from the yeast cells, he added sugar, as is done to preserve marmalade. Schauer states that "while doing this, he noticed the formation of bubbles." This means that carbon dioxide and alcohol were being produced. Buchner had obtained an enzyme mixture (called zymase) from yeast that caused glycolysis, i.e., transformed the sugar into alcohol.
This was a new discovery that refuted the theory put forward by the French chemist and microbiologist, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). The majority of fermentation technologists, chemists and physiologists agreed with Pasteur, assuming that processes like decomposition, putrefaction and fermentation were caused by tiny organisms. Triggering of fermentation was thus one of the vital functions of the cell, like respiration, growth and reproduction. These reactions could only occur when the cell was still alive. However, although Buchner's extract was cell-free, it fermented sugar. This discovery supported the ideas put forward by the German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873). Liebig was convinced that biochemical reactions could also occur outside the cell. According to Liebig, it ought to ultimately be possible to describe the mechanisms that made up a living system and occurred within a cell by chemical reactions. Biochemistry in its entirety was thus no different from normal chemistry. Buchner, after whom the new Institute of Biochemistry that moved to Rudolf-Höber-Strasse in 1993, is named, laid the foundations for modern biochemistry with his discovery. Buchner's first communication "Über die alkoholische Gärung ohne Hefezellen" (On alcoholic fermentation in the absence of yeast cells) was published on 23rd March 1897 in the Berichte series of the German Chemical Society, after it had been submitted to the journal on 11th January 1897. Ten years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this work.
Another Kiel scientist, the biochemist Otto Meyerhof (1884-1951), was involved in the further investigation of the enzymatic decomposition of sugar. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1922.
Eduard Buchner was born in Munich on 20th May 1860. Eduard had not even reached the age of eleven when his father, a physician, died. Buchner studied chemistry, botany and physics, with some interruptions, at the University of Munich and the Polytechnic, today's Technical University of Munich. He worked at a tinning factory during his university years. At this early stage, he was already coming into contact with the questions posed by fermentation chemistry. In 1885, Buchner published his first paper "Der Einfluss des Sauerstoffs auf Gärungen" (The influence of oxygen on fermentations).
However, Buchner was not only a biochemist, but also made substantial contributions to organic chemistry. About half of his 120 scientific publications are dedicated to his research in organic chemistry. They focus mainly on the chemistry of diazoalkanes, as can be read about in the biography of Buchner written by the Berlin chemist Rolf Ukrow. Buchner had taken over and further developed this important research area within organic chemistry from his mentor Theodor Curtius (1857-1928). Supervised by Curtius, he was awarded his PhD in Munich in 1888 for "Eine neue Synthese von Derivaten des Trimethylens" (A new synthesis of trimethylene derivatives), in which he demonstrated the existence of a cyclopropanol ring. During his post-doctoral research (1891), he synthesised pyrazole (a cyclic molecule containing three carbon and two nitrogen atoms) for the first time. This reaction is called the Buchner reaction and involves a cycloaddition with diazoacetic ester and benzene. Pyrazole is the precursor for many interesting compounds in organic chemistry. Schauer, who has studied the scientist in depth in connection with the naming of the Institute, declares that "organic chemistry is still benefiting today from this discovery that merits a prize".
In the autumn of 1893, Buchner moved from Munich to the University of Kiel, where he continued his organic chemistry research under the guidance of Curtius. He was given a chair as an associate professor in 1895. In 1896, Buchner moved to the University of Tübingen where he had a chair in analytical and pharmaceutical chemistry. The longest period of Buchner's research and teaching was spent from 1898 to 1909 at the Königliche Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule (Royal Academy for Agriculture) in Berlin. Other positions he held during his academic career were at Breslau and Würzburg.
"Buchner's life ended tragically", writes Rolf Ukrow. He was a major in the Bavarian Ammunition Column and the father of three was severely injured on the Romanian front on 11th August 1917 and died of his injuries two days later, on 13th August, in the Foscani field hospital.
Disputes on the discovery
Eduard Buchner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1907 for his discovery of cell-free fermentation. However, Maria Manasseina (1848-1903) from St Petersburg also claimed the credit for this discovery. The Russian physician had conducted experiments in 1871 and the results led her to deduce the existence of a fermentation process without the influence of the living yeast cell. Her research was published in 1872 in Julius Wiesner's "Mikroskopischen Untersuchungen" (Microscopic Investigations). This was 26 years before Buchner's publication on cell-free fermentation. "She ground up yeast and in another experiment she actually slightly carbonised it", explains Professor Roland Schauer of the Institute of Biochemistry. She demonstrated the absence of yeast cell growth microscopically. She published her claim to the discovery of cell-free fermentation in the same journal where Buchner had published his results on cell-free fermentation, reports Schauer. Buchner countered her claims, stating that methods had not been sufficiently advanced at that point in time and that her sugar solutions had been contaminated with micro-organisms. The majority of scientists accepted Buchner's view. "Be that as it may, Maria Manasseina was on the right track and close to success and she knew that she was on the way to an answer", stated Buchner's biographer, Rolf Ukrow.
Book tip on the subject: Rolf Ukrow: Nobelpreisträger Eduard Buchner (1860-1917). Ein Leben für die Chemie der Gärungen und – fast vergessen – für die organische Chemie. Dissertation an der Fakultät I – Geisteswissenschaften – der Technischen Universität Berlin, 2004. PDF Download: edocs.tu-berlin.de/diss/2004/ukrow_rolf.pdf (8 MB)