Childhood & Early Life
He was born on April 6, 1911, in Munich, Germany, in the family of Wilhelm Lynen and Frieda Lynen as the seventh child among their eight children. His father was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the ‘Technical University of Munich’.
He completed his high school education from ‘Luitpold-Gymnasium’ in Munich. Following his interest in chemistry he enrolled at the ‘University of Munich’ in the chemistry department in 1930.
He came under the guidance of imminent professors like Heinrich Wieland, Walter Gerlach, Kasimir Fajans and Otto Hönigschmidt. Heinrich Wieland, a Nobel Laureate for chemistry, under whose guidance he completed his graduation, left a great impression on him and from this time on he got acquainted with the field of biochemistry.
He completed his PhD on February 12, 1937, after submitting his work ‘On the Toxic Substances in Amanita’.
Throughout the ‘Second World War’ he remained in Germany and never left his country.
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He joined the ‘University of Munich’ as a chemistry lecturer in 1942 and after few years he was made the assistant professor in 1947. 1953 onwards he served as a professor of biochemistry.
He remained associated with the university till his death. During his tenure in the university he supervised research work of around ninety students of whom many achieved great heights in academia or industry.
In the 1940s he started examining the way living cell transforms simple chemical compounds into complex molecules like lipids and sterols, which are essential requirements for the body to maintain life.
After the ‘Second World War’, he began publishing his own scientific findings and also came to know about similar research being undertaken by Konrad Bloch in the US. With time the two scientists started sharing their findings with each other.
The repercussion of the ‘Second World War’ saw the American and European scientists spurning their German counterparts. Thus only four biochemists from Germany were invited, of whom Lynen was one, for the ‘First International Congress of Biochemistry’ that was held in July 1949 in Cambridge, UK. With his good nature and sound research work he caught attention of many. Years later in 1975 he was selected as President of the ‘Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’, which aimed at promoting good relation between international scientific community and Germany.
Lynen in Germany and Konrad Bloch in the US independently examined and thereby ascertained the sequence of steps applied by animal cells to develop cholesterol. They discovered that the body first forms squalene from acetate which would then be converted to cholesterol.
He published a paper in 1951 elucidating the first step in the series of reactions resulting in creation of cholesterol. He discovered that for the commencement of the chemical chain reaction, a compound called acetyl-coenzyme A, which forms when an acetate radical reacts with coenzyme A, was required.
Thus the chemical structure of ‘acetyl coenzyme A’ or ‘acetyl-CoA’, a significant molecule that play a crucial part in metabolism, was first detailed by him. This finding not only aided him in his further research but also established his international reputation. He also came to know that biotin, a water-soluble Vitamin B7, was an essential requirement in the process.
He also discovered that acetyl-coenzyme A is also an essential requirement in the biosynthesis of fatty acids. He further examined catabolism of fatty acids, which is the set of metabolic pathways that produce energy by burning the fatty acids in food to create water and carbon dioxide.
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In 1954 he became director of ‘Max-Planck Institute for Cellular Chemistry’ in Munich. The post was especially formed for him upon prompting of two imminent German Nobel Laureates, physiologist and medical doctor Otto Heinrich Warburg and chemist Otto Hahn.
The subject of his Nobel Lecture on December 11, 1964 was 'The pathway from "activated acetic acid" to the terpenes and fatty acids'.
He became the President of ‘Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker’ (GDCh) in 1972. It is a scholarly society and a professional body that represent interests of German chemists.
He wrote more than 300 scholarly pieces. Some of his selected publications are ‘Zur chemischen Struktur der„ aktivierten Essigsäure’ along with Ernestine Reichert (1951), ‘Enzymes of fatty acid metabolism’ along with S. Ochoa (1953) and ‘The role of biotin-dependent carboxylations in biosynthetic reactions’ (1967).
He was an honorary member of ‘Asociacion Venezolana para el Avance de la Ciencia’ in Caracas, ‘American Society of Biological Chemists’ in Washington and ‘Harvey Society’ in New York.
He held membership of the ‘The Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities’ in Munich and the ‘Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina’ in Halle.
The ‘University of Freiburg’ conferred upon him an honorary doctorate from the faculty of medicine.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Eva Wieland, daughter of his professor Heinrich Wieland, on May 14, 1937. The couple had five children, two sons and three daughters, who were born from 1938 to 1946 namely Peter (1938), Annemarie (1941), Susanne (1945), Heinrich (1946) and Eva-Maria (1946).
On August 6, 1979, he passed away in Munich and was buried in Lock Leutstetten, Germany.