Ernst Jung Prize awarded to Wolfgang Baumeister

The Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine is awarded for lifetime achievement by a scientist who has made a major contribution to the advancement of medicine. This year’s prize was awarded to Munich biophysicist Wolfgang Baumeister for his work in the field of cryo-electron microscopy and in elucidating the structure of large macromolecular protein complexes. Wolfgang Baumeister is Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried. The prize includes a €30,000 scholarship for Baumeister to award to a junior scientist of his choice. The prize was awarded at a ceremony in Hamburg on 4 May 2018.

Macromolecular complexes and their interactions underlie many cellular functions. Unravelling their structure therefore helps to improve our understanding of cellular processes. The standard procedure for analysing cellular structures is to start by isolating and purifying the cell components and then to use techniques such as X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy[1] and, increasingly, cryo-electron microscopy. Wolfgang Baumeister, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, takes a different approach: with his working group, he researches and develops new techniques which permit cell structures to be studied in their functional context, i.e. in intact cells.

Wolfgang Baumeister’s enthusiasm for discovery was apparent even at school. His fascination for structural biology research was kindled while taking his biology degree and has never left him. Over the decades, he has experienced and, through his research, helped to shape new developments in microscopy. In 2000, Baumeister’s team succeeded for the first time in imaging macromolecular complexes in intact cells. It is now possible to resolve structures at the molecular level in all cellular compartments. Wolfgang Baumeister believes that his work has major significance for medical practice: “Basic research is constantly revealing often unexpected new perspectives leading to novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Unfortunately, developing new techniques is rarely accorded the same importance as hypothesis-driven research. If we are to realise grand visions, I think this is something that we really need to work on.” In addition to his work, the 71-year old enjoys spending quality time in the Tyrolean Alps, skiing, and likes to turn his hand to cooking and art collecting.

About Wolfgang Baumeister
Wolfgang Baumeister studied biology, chemistry and physics at the Universities of Münster, Bonn and Düsseldorf. For his doctorate, he continued at the University of Düsseldorf and, following his postdoctoral qualification period, went to the University of Cambridge, in the UK. Since 1988, Baumeister has been Director of the Department of Molecular Structural Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried. He and his team research large protein complexes. To image these complexes, he developed the technique of cryo-electron microscopy. Baumeister has received a multitude of awards, including the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. Since 2010, he has also been a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

About the Jung Foundation for Science and Research
The Jung Foundation for Science and Research was founded in 1967 by Hamburg businessman Ernst Jung. The Foundation is based in Hamburg. Under the leadership of chairman Rolf Kirchfeld, its work is aimed at advancing research in human medicine, promoting new treatments and strengthening Germany’s credentials as a location for science. Every year, the Foundation awards three prizes which, with a total prize amount of 540,000 euros, are among the best funded medical prizes in Europe: the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine and the Ernst Jung Career Advancement Award for Medical Research. Talented junior medical researchers can apply for the career advancement award directly, the other prizes are awarded via nomination.

[1] NMR = nuclear magnetic resonance

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