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February 14, 2011

Farewell Symposium for Andreas Engel

Andreas Engel, Professor for Structural Biology and former Chairman of the Biozentrum, retired from service to the Biozentrum and became Professor emeritus in October 2010. On February 11th, 2011, the Biozentrum bade farewell to its long standing member and remarkable researcher with a scientific symposium in his honor.

Andreas Engel surrounded by his former students.

Prof. Andreas Engel worked and taught at the Biozentrum for over 25 years. In his research, he focused on unraveling the structure and understanding the function of various membrane proteins. One major emphasis was the investigation of aquaglyceroporins - proteins, which build channels in the cell membrane, through which water and small organic molecules can be transported across the membrane. To analyze these proteins, he employed the techniques of electron crystallography, atomic force microscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy, with which he examined the 2-dimensional crystals of membrane proteins and lipids. Andreas Engel had a great influence on the on the development of 2D crystallization of membrane proteins, on the initial work of the 3D structure determination of the bacterial OmpF porin as well as the elucidation of the structure of human aquaporin-1. Together with Peter Agre (Baltimore) and Yoshinori Fujiyoshi (Kyoto) Engel's work led to the first understanding of the atomic structure of a water channel membrane protein. It was in connection to this, that Peter Agre received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003, for his discovery of water channels.

Physicist, Biologist and Microscopy Pioneer

Andreas Engel initially studied physics at the University of Bern, from where he later graduated with a PhD dissertation in laser physics and holography. After a sabbatical in Mike Beer's Lab at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, he established a scanning transmission electron microscope platform (STEM), in 1974, in Eduard Kellenberger's group at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. This is still active today and the Basel STEM group has continued to carry out significant research work for over 3 decades, leading to 150 publications arising from this instrument alone. After being employed in industry, Andreas Engel joined Ueli Aebi in order to together establish the Maurice E. Mueller Institute for High Resolution Microscopy (MIH). He became Professor for Structural Biology at the Biozentrum, which he also headed as Chairman for a time. Andreas Engel was Coordinator of the European Excellence Cluster "Three Dimensional Electron Microscopy" and from 2005 to 2007, the Vice President of the Systems X Steering Committee. Engel is a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for NanoScience at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, the Research Center Juelich, the GBB of the University of Groningen and the MSD Project of the European Bioinformatics Institute. He is member of the editorial boards of many scientific journals, including the 'Journal of Structural Biology' and 'Molecular Membrane Biology'. Engel on his part was the 2nd most quoted structural biologist in Europe during the years of 2000 to 2003. In 2008, Engel followed a call from the Western Reserve University in the USA, to help establish a new microscopy centre at the Cleveland Center for Structural and Membrane Biology, where he is now active, since reaching emeritus status at the Biozentrum in October 2010.

A Large Meeting with Companions, Colleagues and Students

Andreas Engel published over 400 scientific publications in his career as research scientist, all of which were presented to him as a bound collection on the occasion of this symposium in his honor. Because of its over 4000 pages, the bound collection made up 6 volumes. The oral part of the symposium, on the other hand, was a very attractive series of talks by many of Engel's colleagues. Some from the Department in Basel and others having travelled from abroad reported the newest research findings as well as relating shared experiences with the guest of honor. Included among the illustrious speakers were Erich Nigg, Ueli Aebi, Jürg Rosenbusch, Walter Gehring as well as Henning Stahlberg from the Biozentrum and Wolfgang Baumeister from the MPI for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Thomas Walz from the Harvard Medical School and the Nobel Prize Laureate, Kurt Wüthrich, from Scripps Research Institute and the ETH Zurich. Accordingly, the large lecture theater was pretty crowded: family, friends, scientists as well as students from Basel gathered on this sunny Friday afternoon, to pay tribute to Andreas Engel and several dozen former students had come from around the world to show fitting appreciation to their mentor of many years.

Contact: Communications