Birthday: April 6, 1920
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Edmond Henri Fischer
Born in: Shanghai, China
Famous as: Biochemist
father: Oscar Fischer
mother: Renée Tapernoux
City: Shanghai, China
awards: 1992 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1963 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences
US & Canada
Who is Edmond H. Fischer?
Edmond Henri Fischer was Swiss American biochemist, who, along with Edwin G. Krebs, won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was born in Shanghai International Settlement (China) to Austro-French parents. When he was seven years old, he was sent to Geneva for his education. Brought up in a boarding school, far away from his parents, he did remarkably well in school and also learnt to play the piano so well that for a time he also thought of becoming a professional musician. After receiving his school leaving certificate, he first decided to study microbiology. As the field was not yet developed in Europe he was persuaded to take up chemistry. In the end, he studied both chemistry and biology, doing his doctoral work on alpha-amylase at the University of Geneva. Afterwards, he shifted to the United States and joined University of Washington as Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry. There he teamed up with Professor Edwin Gerhard Krebs and began working on enzymology of glycogen phosphorylase. Ultimately they discovered reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism. Much later they received Nobel Prize for it. Fisher remained with the University of Washington all through his working life, serving as professor emeritus after retirement.
Childhood & Early Years
Edmond Henri Fischer was born on April 6, 1920, in Shanghai International Settlement, China. His father, Oscar Fischer, an Austria-born doctorate in law and business, migrated to Shanghai soon after finishing his education at Vienna.
Edmond’s mother, Renée Tapernoux, was originally from Switzerland. Her father was initially a journalist at the French newspaper L'Aurore; later he settled with his family in Shanghai.
Young Edmond began his education at l'Ecole Municipale Française, established by his maternal grandfather. By the time he was seven, he was sent to La Châtaigneraie, a large boarding school in Geneva, along with his two brothers; Raoul and Georges. Later Raoul Fischer became a mechanical engineer and Georges, an attorney.
In 1935, Edmond enrolled at the Collège de Genève (now known as the Collège de Calvin) for his secondary education. Concurrently, he also studied piano under Johnny Aubert at Geneva Conservatory of Music. Although at one point of time, he thought of taking it up professionally he later decided against it.
In 1939, Edmond received his Maturité Fédérale. Initially, he wanted to study microbiology; but was dissuaded from it by Fernand Chodat, the Professeur of Bacteriology, because there was little scope for it in Switzerland. Therefore, he entered the School of Chemistry at the University of Geneva.
For the first two years he studied inorganic chemistry and was not very impressed by it. However, he found organic chemistry more interesting. Concurrently, he also studied biology at the University of Geneva and in 1945 earned his Licences ès Science in both chemistry and biology.
Later, he began his doctoral work on the purification process of hog pancreas amylase under Prof. Kurt H. Meyer, Head of the Department of Organic Chemistry, earning his PhD in 1947. His dissertation was titled ‘La purification et l'isolement de l'alpha-amylase de pancréas’.
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Soon after receiving his degree in 1947, Edmond H. Fischer joined University of Geneva as a Privat Docent in Enzymology and remained in that position till 1953. There he worked with Prof. Kurt H. Meyer on polysaccharides, a common source of energy in many foods.
The field of Enzymology was not very well developed in Europe during that period. Therefore, he decided to go to the United States of America for postdoctoral research. The death of Professor Meyer in April 1952 also added to his urge to travel abroad.
In 1953, Fischer left for the United States of America on a Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowship. His destination was California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. As he reached New York, he found that his friends had arranged for some seminars at Pittsburg and Madison.
Although he received job offer from both those places, he moved to Pasadena and joined Caltech. However, within a short period he received another offer from the University of Washington, located at Seattle. He accepted this offer, mainly because the place reminded him of Switzerland, where he had grown up since the age of seven.
Accordingly, Fischer joined University of Washington as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in 1953. The Department had only seven faculty members and all of them became good friends. He especially teamed up with Edwin Gerhard Krebs, who had joined the university in 1948.
Within six months of Fischer’s arrival at Washington University he and Krebs began working together on enzymology of glycogen phosphorylase, trying to clarify the role of AMP in the phosphorylase reaction. However, they were not successful in that; instead they found that muscle phosphorylase was regulated by phosphorylation-dephosphorylation.
Fischer and Krebs worked very closely; yet they maintained their own groups, which also carried on separate experiments. For example, while Krebs’ group carried on his original work on DPNH-X, a derivative of NADH, Fischer and his colleague from University of Geneva, Eric Stein, continued their studies on the alpha-amylases.
However, they were equally intent on their work on glycogen phosphorylase. Every night they planned the experiments together and carried them on the next day. The understanding was so deep that if any of them had to leave the laboratory in the midway other would automatically take it up.
Fischer and Krebs were able to distinguish and purify phosphorylase, an enzyme that acts as a catalyst when a phosphate group from an inorganic phosphate is added to an acceptor. In addition, they also discovered protein kinases and phosphatase, which are enzymes responsible for catalyzing the attachment and detachment of phosphate groups.
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By the middle of 1950s, they discovered how reversible protien phosphorylation works as a switch to activate proteins and regulate various cellular processes. This discovery not only led to further research, but at personal level, also earned them the coveted Nobel Prize.
In 1961, Fischer became a full professor and continued in the post till 1990; after which he became a professor emeritus at the same university. Along with his academic responsibilities Fischer carried on his research on reversible protein phosphorylation, investigating into its role in different cellular processes.
Fischer’s work with Krebs on reversible protein phosphorylation is his most significant contribution to biochemistry. They started by studying how muscles get energy to contract or expand and in the process discovered a phenomenon called ‘reversible protein phosphorylation’.
They explained that in this process, a kinase enzyme called protein kinase moves a phosphate group from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to a protein, thus changing its shape and the function. The altered protein is now able to take part in the required biological process.
When the process is completed, a protein phosphatase removes the phosphate and the protein goes back to its original state. In this way, reversible protein phosphorylation controls a large number of metabolic processes, such as blood pressure, brain signals, immune responses etc
In 1992, Fischer and Krebs jointly received the Nobel Prize in Philosophy or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism"
Fischer was also awarded the Werner Prize from the Swiss Chemical Society and the Prix Jaubert from the University of Geneva.
In 1972, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Next in 1973, he became a Member of the National Academy of Sciences.
in 2010, he was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS).
In 1948 while he was working in the University of Geneva, Edmond H. Fischer married Nelly Gagnaux . The couple had two sons, François and Henri Fischer. Nelly died in 1961.
In 1963, Fischer married Beverley Bullock. From this union, he has a step daughter, Paula Bullock, from Beverley’s first marriage.
Fischer first received the news of his receiving the Nobel Prize by telephone from CBS New York. It was in the middle of the night and he thought that somebody was trying to sell him stocks. Later as the news sank in, he rang up his long time secretary and told her to watch the 6 AM news as something had happened that would cause her lots of works. Her reply was, "Don't tell me. I know. You lost all your plane tickets. Again."
When asked if his life has been affected by the Nobel Prize, he answered, ‘Here's how. You see that limo waiting for us downstairs? Two years ago, it would have been a Yellow Cab instead.'