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Edmond H. Fischer in June 2016.
Edmond H. Fischer in June 2016.

Edmond Henri Fischer (born April 6, 1920) is an American biochemist. He and his collaborator Edwin G. Krebs were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992 for describing how reversible phosphorylation works as a switch to activate proteins and regulate various cellular processes.[3] From 2007 until 2014, he was the Honorary President of the World Cultural Council.[4][5][6][7] He is the oldest living Nobel laureate at age 99.

Early life and education

Fischer was born in the Shanghai International Settlement, China. His mother, Renée Tapernoux, was born in France, and his father, Oscar Fischer, was born in Austria.[8] His father practiced as a lawyer in Shanghai before the various consular courts in the city.[9] Fischer's maternal grandfather founded the "Courrier de Chine" in Shanghai, which is the first newspaper published in French in China; he also helped to establish "l'Ecole Municipale Française" in Shanghai, where Fischer attended primary school.[10]

At age 7, Fischer and his two older brothers, Raoul and George[11], were sent to the Swiss boarding school La Châtaigneraie, near the home town of his mother, Renée Tapernoux, in Vevey. At high school he made a pact with a childhood friend, one of them would become a doctor and the other a scientist and then they could cure the ills of the world. While at high school Fischer was admitted to the Geneva Conservatory of Music, he also considered becoming a professional musician.

At the completion of high school, Fischer wanted to study microbiology; however, he was advised to study chemistry. He studied at the University of Geneva during World War II, he enjoyed organic chemistry and also studied biology. He completed a PhD in organic chemistry under the supervision of Kurt Heinrich Meyer, who worked on the structure of polysaccharides, and the enzymes needed for their synthesis and breakdown. Fischer worked on alpha-amylase.

Career and research

After his PhD, Fischer went to the United States in 1950 for postdoctoral research. He was supposed to take up a position at Caltech, but he was also, unexpectedly, offered a position at the University of Washington, Seattle. Seattle reminded Fischer and his wife of Switzerland so they chose to settle there.

Six months after his arrival in Seattle, Fischer began collaborating with Edwin G. Krebs. They worked on glycogen phosphorylase; Krebs and Fischer defined a series of reactions leading to the activation/inactivation of this enzyme as triggered by hormones and calcium, and in the process discovering reversible protein phosphorylation.

Explained simply reversible protein phosphorylation works like this: a protein kinase moves a phosphate group from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to a protein. The shape and the function of the protein is altered enabling it to take part in converting glycogen into glucose which is used for fuel for muscular contractions. When the protein has completed its role a different protein phosphatase removes the phosphate and the protein reverts to its original state. This cycle takes place to control an enormous number of metabolic processes.[12][13]

For the key discovery of reversible protein phosphorylation, Fischer and Krebs were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1992.

Through his career, Fischer's research continued to look at the role reversible protein phosphorylation played in a variety of cellular processes.

Awards and honors

Fischer won numerous awards including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2010.[2] He was award the Werner Prize from the Swiss Chemical Society and the Prix Jaubert from the University of Geneva. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972[2] and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973.[1]

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