Robert Huber is a German biochemist who was conferred with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988 for determining the three dimensional structure of a photosynthesis reaction centre. He shared the prize with Johann Deisenhofer and Hartmut Michel. Raised during the World War II days when survival and daily bread seemed a continuous struggle, Huber did not let the societal problems come in way of his learning. he gained his early education from Humanistisches Karls-Gymnasium. Therein, Huber briefed himself in Latin, Greek, natural sciences and grammar. Huber was first introduced to chemistry during his gymnasium days. Intrigued by the subject, he extensively read all the books on chemistry and soon gained a diploma in the subject. He received his doctorate from Munich Technical University and later joined the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry at Martinsried, Germany. It was at Max Planck that he conducted his award-winning research with Deisenhofer and Michel. He alternately worked there and at the Munich Technical University. Currently, Huber serves as the Emeritus of Excellence at the Munich Technical University.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert Huber was born on February 20, 1937 in Munich, to Sebastian and Helene Huber. His father was a bank cashier. Robert had a younger sister.
Young Huber gained his early education from Humanistisches Karls-Gymnasium from 1947 to 1956. His fascination for chemistry began since then as he read all books on chemistry he could lay his hands on. Later, Huber studied chemistry at the Technische Hochschule, receiving his diploma in 1960.
Upon receiving his diploma, Huber involved himself in research, using crystallography to elucidate the structure of organic compounds. The research work gained him a stipend from the Bayerisches Ministerium für Erziehung und Kultur and later from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes that took care of his financial problems.
Huber went on to study crystallography under W. Hoppe at the Munich Technical University from where he gained a doctorate degree in 1963; his thesis work was on the crystal structure of a diazo compound.
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Robert Huber’s PhD on the crystal structure of a diazo compound influenced much of his future works as he became aware of the power of crystallography. He propelled his career in the same direction, researching on crystallography.
Huber carried out most of his work at Hoppe’s laboratory, working on crystallographic studies of the insect metamorphosis hormone ecdysone and at Karlson’s laboratory at the Physiologisch-Chemisches Institut der Universität München.
During his work at the Karlson’s laboratory, he found by a simple crystallographic experiment the molecular weight and probable steroid nature of ecdysone. This discovery led Huber to continue his research in the field of crystallography.
After a number of structure determinations of organic compounds and methodical development of Patterson search techniques, with the support of Hoppe and Braunitzer, Huber began his crystallographic work on the insect protein erythrocruorin (with Formanek) in 1967.
In 1970, Huber began work on the basic pancreatic trypsin inhibitor. It eventually became the model compound for the development of protein NMR, molecular dynamics, and experimental folding studies in other laboratories.
In 1971, Huber accepted a chair of structural biology at the Biozentrum from the University of Basel and that of a director of the Structure Research department at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry, a position he served until 2005. Simultaneously, he remained associated with the Munich Technical University where he became an adjunct professor in 1976.
Huber spent the first half of the 1970s working on immunoglobulins and their fragments which culminated in the elucidation of several fragments, an intact antibody and its Fc fragment, the first glycoprotein to be analysed in atomic detail. He later extended the work to proteins interacting with immunoglobulins.
Beginning 1980s, Huber began studies of proteins involved in excitation energy and electron transfer, light-harvesting proteins, bilin-binding protein and ascorbate oxidase. It was while studying these that Huber analysed that some of the proteins showed large-scale flexibility. However, the study was not accepted by the scientific community instantly.
In 1985, Robert Huber along with his colleagues, Johann Deisenhofer and Hartmut Michel, successfully determined the three-dimensional structure of the photosynthesis reaction centres for the first time. The discovery was revolutionary as it became instrumental in the understanding of the photosynthetic light reaction as well as numerous ways in which proteins function.
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Since 2005, he serves as the Director Emeritus and Head of the research group on Structure Research at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry.
In 2013, he was appointed Emeritus of Excellence at the Munich Technical University and has been serving in this position since then.
The magnum opus of Huber’s career came in 1980s when he, along with Johann Deisehofer and Hartmut Michel, determined the three dimensional structure of a photosynthesis reaction centre. An internationally recognized expert in the use of X-ray diffraction, Huber determined the atomic structure of complex molecules such as proteins by analysing the manner in which the crystal’s atoms scatter a beam of X rays. Along with his colleagues he used the same technique to determine the structure of a protein complex which is essential to photosynthesis in certain bacteria.
Awards & Achievements
In 1977, Huber was awarded the Otto Warburg Medal.
In 1988, Huber received the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Johann Deisenhofer and Hartmut Michel. The trio were conferred with the prize for their determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre.
In 1992, he was presented with the Sir Hans Krebs Medal.
In 1993, Huber was elected as a member of Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts and in 1999, became a Foreign Member of the Royal Society
Personal Life & Legacy
Huber married Christa Essig in 1960. The couple was blessed with four children, two daughters and two sons. However, Huber and Christa parted ways.
Currently, Huber is married to Brigitte Doleshel.