Childhood & Early Years
Eduard Buchner was born on May 20, 1860, in Munich, into a well-known Bavarian family. His father, Ernst Buchner, was the Professor Extraordinary of Forensic Medicine and Obstetrics. In addition, he was also the editor of the Ärztliches Intelligenzblatt (later Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift). His mother’s name was Friederike née Martin.
Eduard’s elder brother, Hans Ernst August Buchner, was ten years senior to him. He grew up to be a well-known bacteriologist and a pioneer in the field of immunology. He not only supported Eduard’s education after their father’s death in 1872, but also assisted him in his works in later years.
Eduard had his early education at Maximilian Gymnasium, Munich. Later he joined the laboratory of E. Erlenmeyer Sr. at Munich Polytechnic; today known as Technical University of Munich. But due to financial constraints, he could not finish his studies there. Instead he took up a job in a preserving and canning factory.
He next resumed his studies in 1884. While studying at the Polytechnic he had grown an interest in chemistry and now he began to study the subject with Professor Adolf von Baeyer at the Bavarian Academy of Science in Munich.
Concurrently, he also studied botany with Professor Carl von Naegeli at the Botanic Institute, Munich. It is here that Eduard became interested in the problems of alcoholic fermentation. He now began to work on it under the supervision of his brother, who had by this time become a lecturer at the University of Munich.
After much experimentation, Eduard came to the conclusion that contrary to what Pasteur had said, presence of oxygen is not a precondition for fermentation. In 1885, he published his findings in his first paper, titled ‘Der Einfluss des Sauerstoffs auf Gärungen’ (The influence of oxygen on fermentations).
Sometime during this period, he was awarded Lamont Scholarship for three years by the Philosophical Faculty. It helped him to complete his doctoral thesis without any financial stress.
Although he completed most part of the thesis under Adolf von Baeyer he spent the last term working with Otto Fischer at his laboratory in Erlangen. Finally, he received his doctoral degree from the University of Munich in 1888.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
In 1889, Eduard Buchner began his career as an assistant lecturer at the laboratory of Adolf von Baeyer at the University of Munich. Two years later in 1891, he was promoted to the post of the lecturer at the same university.
Some time now, he also received a grant from von Baeyer. With that he set up his own laboratory and began working on chemical fermentation. In 1883, he made his first experiment on the rupture of yeast cells. However, the Board of the Laboratory opined that nothing would come out of the experiment and consequently it was set aside for three years.
In the same year in autumn, Buchner shifted to the University of Kiel as a lecturer. Here he worked in the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the laboratory of T. Curius. In 1895, he was promoted to the post of associated professor at the same university.
In 1896, Buchner joined University of Tübingen as a Professor Extraordinary of Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His brother, Hans Buchner, had by then become a member on the Board of Directors in the Hygiene Institute at Munich. It had the infrastructure required for detailed experimentation.
Eduard Buchner now began spending his vacations at his brother’s laboratory at Munich and resumed his research on the content of the yeast cell. In the fall of 1896, he accidentally found an enzyme mixture called zymase that transformed sugar into alcohol.
He published his findings on January 9, 1897 in Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft. The article was titled ‘Alkoholische Gärung ohne Hefezellen’ (On alcoholic fermentation without yeast cells).
However, discovering zymase was not an end in itself. He had to defend his discovery against various objections raised by other scientists. Among them, physiologist, Max Rubner, the biochemist, Hans von Euler-Chelpin, and the botanist, Wilhelm Ruhland, were most vocal. By 1902, Buchner published seventeen more papers in defense of his theory.
In October 1898, Buchner was appointed to the Chair of General Chemistry at Königliche Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule (Royal Academy for Agriculture) in Berlin. Here he continued with his experimentations and teaching. Simultaneously, he worked to improve his qualification.
In 1900, Buchner received his habilitation from the University of Berlin. It enabled him not only to obtain larger grants, but also allowed him to train his own research assistants.
Continue Reading Below
His years in Berlin had been most productive. In 1903, he published his book, titled ‘Die Zymasegärung (Zymosis)’. It was written in collaboration with his brother Hans Buchner and Martin Hahn. In it he talked in detail about his work on the alcoholic fermentation of sugar.
In 1909, Buchner was appointed to the Chair of Psychological Chemistry in the University of Breslau. From there he was transferred to the University of Würzburg in 1911. He was there when the World War I broke out. He volunteered to join the army and was drafted as a Captain in August 1914.
Eduard Buchner is best remembered for his discovery of zymase, an enzyme mixture that promotes cell free fermentation. However, it was a chance discovery. He was then working in his brother’s laboratory in Munich trying to produce yeast cell free extracts, which the latter wanted to use in an application for immunology.
To preserve the protein in the yeast cells, Eduard Buchner added concentrated sucrose to it. Bubbles began to form soon enough. He realized that presence of enzymes in the yeast has broken down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Later, he identified this enzyme as zymase and showed that it can be extracted from yeast cells. This single discovery laid the foundation of modern biochemistry.
Personal Life & Legacy
Eduard Buchner married Lotte Stahl on 19 August, 1900. The couple had four children; Friedel, Luise, Hans and Rudolf. Among them, Luise died in infancy. Friedel grew up to be a teacher, Hans a physicist and Rudolf a historian.
Eduard Buchner was a follower of Bismarck. When World War I broke out in July 1914, he volunteered to join in. He was initially appointed as a Captain and by 1916 became a Major in the Bavarian Ammunition Column. However, in the same year, he was called back to resume teaching at Würzburg.
He again joined the war in 1917. This time he was sent to the front line at Romania. On August 3, 1917 he was hit by shrapnel and died nine days later on August 13, 1917, at the Army Field Hospital at Focşani, Romania.