Christian Anfinsen Biography


Birthday: March 26, 1916 (Aries)

Born In: Monessen, Pennsylvania

Christian Boehmer Anfinsen was an American biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the structure of enzymes and the relationship between enzyme functions and the amino acid sequence. He shared the prize with two other American scientists, William Howard Stein and Stanford Moore. From his experiments on the ‘ribonuclease’ enzyme he came to the conclusion that the information regarding the tertiary structure of the enzyme is contained in the sequential structure of the amino acids present along the protein chain. His work led to the understanding of the causes of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, mad cow disease, cystic fibrosis, genetic emphysema and many types of cancers. His early work with Steinberg was on the non-uniform labeling of newly synthesized proteins which later helped Canfield and Dintzis to determine that proteins are sequentially synthesized from amino acids ‘in vivo’ and to find out the rate of polymerization of amino acids. In the mid-1950s Anfinsen concentrated on the structure and function of enzymes which helped him suggest the ‘thermodynamic hypothesis’ related to the refolding of many proteins to their native forms even after the cleavage of the disulphide bonds which disrupted the tertiary structure.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Florence Bernice Kenenger, Libby Esther Shulman Ely

father: Christian Boehmer Anfinsen, Sr

mother: Sophie Rasmussen Anfinsen

children: Carol, Christian, Daniel, David, Margot, Mark, Tobie

Biochemists American Men

Died on: May 14, 1995

place of death: Randallstown, Maryland

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

More Facts

education: Swarthmore College (BA, 1937), University of Pennsylvania (MS, 1939), Harvard Medical School (PhD, 1943)

awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1972)

Childhood & Early Life
Christian Boehmer Anfinsen, Jr. was born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, on March 26, 1916. His father, Christian Boehmer Anfinsen, Sr was a mechanical engineer and his mother was Sophie Rasmussen Anfinsen.
He had a sister named Carol. Both his parents were Norwegian immigrants, and lived in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, for several years and before moving to Philadelphia in the 1920s.
Anfinsen joined the ‘Swarthmore College’ after getting a scholarship to study chemistry and worked as a waiter at the dining hall.
He earned his B.S. degree from the ‘Swarthmore College’ in 1937 and joined the ‘University of Pennsylvania’ to pursue graduate studies.
He received his M.S. degree in organic chemistry from the ‘University of Pennsylvania’ in 1939 and worked at the university as an assistant instructor during this period.
He received a fellowship from the ‘American Scandanavian Foundation’ in 1939 and moved to the ‘Carlsberg Laboratory’ in Copenhagen, Denmark to work on developing new methods for the analysis of complex protein structures especially that of enzymes.
He had to come back to the United States in 1940 due to the unfavorable conditions and horrors created in Denmark and Europe by the German occupation forces during the beginning of the Second World War.
After coming back to the United States, he was offered a university fellowship to study for his doctorate at the ‘Department of Biological Chemistry’ at the ‘Harvard Medical School’.
In 1943 he received his PhD in biochemistry from the ‘Harvard Medical School’.
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After receiving his PhD degree in 1943, Christian Boehmer Anfinsen taught biological chemistry at the ‘Harvard Medical School’ for the next seven years till 1950, first as an instructor and then as an assistant professor.
From 1944 to 1946 he served in a civilian research post at the ‘Office of Scientific Research and Development’ in Harvard.
From 1947 to 1948 he worked at the ‘Medical Nobel Institute’ in Stockholm after being sponsored as a Senior Fellow by the ‘American Cancer Society’
In 1950 he became the Director of the ‘Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Metabolism’ of the ‘National Heart Institute’ a part of the rapidly expanding ‘National Institutes of Health (NIH)’ located at Bethesda, Maryland and held the post till 1954.
He moved to the ‘Carlsberg Laboratory’ in Copenhagen in 1954 with the help of a ‘Rockfeller Foundation’ fellowship and worked with Kaj Linderstrom-Lang for a year.
From 1958 to 1959 he studied at the ‘Weizman Institute of Science’ at Rehovot, Israel, with the help of a ‘Guggenheim Foundation’ fellowship.
He served as a member of the board of governors for the ‘Weizmann Institute’ from 1962 onwards.
He developed the ‘thermodynamic principle’ of protein folding in enzymes during the period 1954 to 1962.
He became a visiting professor to the ‘Harvard Medical School’ in 1962 and was promptly offered the post of the Chairman of the ‘Department of Biological Chemistry’ which he accepted and held till 1962.
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He moved to Bethesda as the Chief of the brand new ‘Laboratory of Chemical Biology’ at the ‘National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases (NIAMD)’ currently known as the ‘National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ in 1963 where he remained till his retirement from NHI in 1981.
During the period 1966-1968 he used affinity chromatography methods to identify the amino acid sequence in enzymes.
In 1981 he was offered the post of Chief Scientist of a scientific research company named ‘Taglit’ formed by ‘Yeda’, the corporate arm of the ‘Weizmann Institute’. Unfortunately, Anfinsen was left jobless within two weeks of his arrival in Israel, when E. F. Hutton withdrew his funding from the project.
He remained without a job for almost a year after which he received an offer for the post of ‘Professor of Biology and Assistant to the President for Industrial Liaison’ by the ‘John Hopkins University’ in 1982.
From 1983 to 1995, Anfinsen carried out research related to ‘hyperthermophilic bacteria’ which were microorganisms that survive at extremely high temperatures.
He served as an editor of the journal ‘Advances in Protein Chemistry’ and on the editorial committees of the ‘Journal of Biological Chemistry’ and ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’.
Major Works
Christian B. Anfinsen published his book ‘The Molecular Basis of Evolution’ in 1959.
Awards & Achievements
He was elected to the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1963 and to the ‘Royal Danish Academy’ in 1964.
He was made the President of the ‘American Society of Biological Chemists’ for the Academic year 1971 to 1972.
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He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1972.
He was made a member of the ‘American Philosophical Society’, and the Vatican’s ‘Pontifical Academy of Sciences’.
He received ‘Honorary Doctor of Science’ degrees from ‘Swarthmore College’ in 1965, ‘Georgetown University’ in 1967 and the ‘New York Medical College’ in 1969.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Florence Bernice Kenenger in November, 1941, and divorced her in 1978. He had two daughters Carol and Margot and a son Christian from this marriage.
He married Libby Esther Shulman Ely in 1979, and became a stepfather to Libby’s four sons Mark, Tobie, Daniel and David.
Christian B. Anfinsen died of heart attack at Randallstown, Maryland, on May 14, 1995, at the age of seventy-nine.
The ‘Christian B. Anfinsen Award’ was established in 1996 to recognize scientists whose work is related to significant technological achievements in protein research.
The ‘International Conference on Protein Folding and Design was held from April 23rd to 26th, 1996 in his honor.
Humanitarian Work
Christian Boehmer Anfinsen was involved in social and political issues like environmental degradation, nuclear disarmament, and human rights abuses committed against scientists.
Christian Boehmer Anfinsen was an avid sailor and went on boat trips on the Chesapeake Bay from Boston to Miami.

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