Gottfried Schatz, Austrian biochemist, died at 79

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Gottfried Schatz, born on August 18, 1936 and died October 1, 2015, Gottfried was a Swiss-Austrian biochemist.

Gottfried was born in Strem. Upon obtaining his PhD in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Graz (Austria), he did postdoctoral work at the University of Vienna and at “The Public Health Institute” of the City of New York.

In 1968, he emigrated to the USA in order to assume a professorship Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Six years later, he returned to Europe in order to join the newly created Biocenter at the University of Basel, which he chaired from 1983 to 1985, From 1984 to 1989 he was Secretary General of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

After his retirement in 2000, he presided the Swiss Science and Technology Council (SSTC) until 2003.

Gottfried is the author of more than 200 professional publications as well as of two books of essays on the broader implications of science.

His scientific autobiography “Interplanetary travels” was published in 2000. He died on 1 October 2015, aged 79.

Gottfried Schatz played a leading role in elucidating the biogenesis of mitochondria and in discovering mitochondrial DNA.

He recognized that this DNA encoded only a small number of mitochondrial proteins which was decisive for his further research on the import of proteins into the mitochondria and the degradation of proteins within these organelles.

Gottfried discovered a complex transport system that recognizes mitochondrial proteins made in the cytoplasm by specific signals attached to these proteins and then transfers them into the mitochondria.

This system comprises two protein complexes, TOM and TIM, which are localized in the outer and inner mitochondrial membranes respectively.

Mutations in these complexes can disrupt protein import and cause illnesses such as the neurodegenerative Mohr-Tranebjaerg syndrome, which leads to deafness.

Gottfried also demonstrated that the energy-requiring protease Lon regulates protein turnover within the mitochondria, thus maintaining the integrity and the proper functioning of mitochondrial DNA.

Gottfried Schatz is the author of more than 200 scientific publications, three volumes of essays, an autobiography and a novel.

His books have appeared in English, French, Greek and Czech translation.