Biochemist Edmond Fischer, who codiscovered the mechanism of reversible phosphorylation alongside Edwin Krebs, died in his adopted hometown of Seattle on August 27 at the age of 101.
Fischer was born in Shanghai, China, in 1920 to a French mother and an Austrian father. According to his autobiography, he began primary school at a local French-language institution but joined his older brothers at a Swiss boarding school at age seven. Throughout high school, he studied piano, and even thought about becoming a musician. But he began studying chemistry in college at the University of Geneva, earning his National License Diploma (a step between a Bachelor’s and a Master’s) in biology and chemistry during World War II.
He stayed on at the university, and in 1947, completed his doctoral thesis on the structure of polysaccharides and of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that breaks them down. He remained at the university as a researcher for a few years before coming to the United States as a postdoc at the University of Washington in 1953. He became a full professor in 1961.
Soon after arriving in Seattle, Fischer began collaborating with Edwin Krebs (no relation to Hans Krebs, for whom the Krebs cycle is named) studying glycogen phosphorylase, a liver enzyme. In the 1960s, they learned that the enzyme converts stored glycogen into glucose, which the body can then use for quickly-accessible energy in sudden “fight or flight” situations. They also found that glycogen phosphorylase’s activity could be controlled by other enzymes that attached or clipped off a phosphate group, a phenomenon that would turn out to be common in biology. Fischer remained at the university throughout his career, retiring to become a professor emeritus in 1990.
In 1992, Fischer and Krebs jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for what the Nobel assembly called “their discoveries concerning reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism.”
In his later years, Fischer became a fixture at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings held every summer in Germany. In addition to learning more about the research of recent Nobel laureates, he talked with countless graduate students about their work.
“He truly inspired many young scientists for the ‘beauty of science’ as he once put it himself,” Countess Bettina Bernadotte, president of the council for Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, says in a press release.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Fischer received many other accolades, including election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972 and the National Academy of Sciences the following year, and numerous honorary degrees. He was elected as a foreign member of The Royal Society in 2010.
Fischer is preceded in death by his first wife, Nelly, who was the mother of his children, and his second wife, Beverley. He is survived by his two sons, a stepdaughter, and grandchildren.