Childhood & Early Life
He was born on January 21, 1912, in Neisse, Upper Silesia, at that time a part of the German Empire, in a middle-class family to Fritz Bloch and Hedwig née Striemer as their second child.
He studied in an elementary school followed by the Realgymnasium. He moved to Munich in 1930 and enrolled at the “Technical University of Munich’ (TUM) to study chemistry and chemical engineering. Soon he became interested in organic chemistry and was highly motivated by the teaching of German organic chemist and Nobel Laureate Hans Fischer.
He used to hear great organic chemists like Rudolf Willstätter, Heinrich Wieland and Adolph Windaus while attending the Sessions of the Münchener Chemische Gesellschaft. These great scientists reporting on their research works on enzymes, steroids and porphyrins in such sessions had an immense influence on him.
In 1934 he received the Diplom-Ingenieur in Chemistry. However atrocities of the Nazis against the Jews and rise of Adolf Hitler forced him to leave Germany.
Initially he settled in Davos, Switzerland, where he joined the Swiss institute, ‘Schweizerische Forschungsinstitut’ in a temporary position. In this institute he was exposed for the first time to biochemical investigations when he was delegated to examine the phospholipids of tubercle bacilli, the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis.
In 1936 he moved to the United States where he joined the ‘Columbia University’ following the advice of late Max Bergmann and recieving generous aid from the ‘Wallerstein Foundation’. He enrolled at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the university in the Department of Biochemistry.
He came under the guidance of Professor of Biological Chemistry Hans T. Clarke and in 1938 he completed his Ph.D in biochemistry from the university.
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After completing his Ph.D he was invited by Rudolf Schoenheimer, a German-American biochemist to join the latter’s research team. He stayed in Columbia from 1939 to 1946 and worked with Schoenheimer and his associate, US biochemist David Rittenberg for a few years.
He came to know regarding the use of radioisotopes while working with Schoenheimer and his research team. According to Bloch, he developed an enduring interest in the study of intermediary metabolism as also the issues of biosynthesis.
Following the death of Schoenheimer in 1941, Bloch collaborated with Rittenberg and commenced work on biological synthesis of cholesterol. Through their investigations, they found acetate as a key component of cholesterol. This marked the beginning of his research on complicated pattern of steps in biological synthesis of cholesterol, a subject that he worked on for almost twenty years.
In 1944 he became a naturalized citizen of the US.
He moved to Chicago in 1946 where he was inducted as Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in the ‘University of Chicago’. Apart from his investigations on biosynthesis of cholesterol he also began examining the enzymatic synthesis of tripeptide glutathione along with J. Snoke.
He received ‘Guggenheim Fellowships’, awarded annually by ‘John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation’, thrice in 1953, 1960 and 1975. In 1953, he spent an extremely fruitful year in Zurich with Croatian-Swiss scientist and Nobel Laureate L. Ruzicka and Croatian-Swiss organic chemist V. Prelog and their associates at the ‘Organisch-Chemisches Institut’, ‘Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule’.
He was inducted in the ‘Harvard University’ in 1954 in its ‘Department of Chemistry’ as Higgins Professor of Biochemistry. Later in 1968 he was made Chairman of the Department.
During this period he examined origin of the 27 carbon atoms present in cholesterol molecule. He showed that at first squalene is formed by the body from acetate and would then be converted to cholesterol, a finding also made by Feodor Lynen, the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize along with him.
As fungi also produced squalene, Bloch and his colleagues used radioactive acetate in bread mould and gradually discovered that the origin of carbon atom in cholesterol came from the two-carbon molecule of acetate. This study of Bloch showed importance of acetic acid in formation of cholesterol as also significance of cholesterol as a component of body cells.
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He found out that bile as well as a female sex hormone was made of cholesterol and eventually discovered that each steroid related substance in human body is derived from cholesterol.
His research work on different aspects of terpene and sterol biogenesis continued. He also developed interest in studying enzymatic formation of unsaturated fatty acids as also the different facets of biochemical evolution.
From 1966 to 1969 he remained Chairman of the Section of Biochemistry at ‘National Academy of Sciences’.
In 1967 he became President of ‘American Society of Biological Chemists’.
He was conferred with honorary doctorate by many universities including ‘Columbia University’ in 1967, Munich’s ‘Technische Hochschule’ in 1968 and ‘Brandeis University’ in 1970.
‘International Union of Biochemistry’ made him the Chairman of its National Committee in 1968.
He was a member of several academies and societies such as ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, ‘National Academy of Sciences U. S.’ and ‘American Society of Biological Chemists’.
He was a Senior Fellow of the ‘Australian Academy of Science’ and an honorary member of ‘Lombardy Academy of Sciences’.
Post retirement from ‘Harvard University’, he served the ‘College of Human Sciences’ at the ‘Florida State University’ as the Mack and Effie Campbell Tyner Eminent Scholar Chair.
He became a Fellow of the ‘Royal Society’ in 1985.
Personal Life & Legacy
He first met his future wife Lore Teutsch in Munich and married her in the United States in 1941. They were blessed with two children, son, Peter and daughter, Susan.
He was a music lover, enjoyed tennis and skiing and was well-known for his modesty.
He passed away on October 15, 2000 after suffering congestive heart failure at the ‘Lahey Clinic’ in Burlington, Massachusetts.