On March 30th, 2023, Prof. em. Walter Keller passed away at the age of 84 years in Basel, after a long illness. With his death, the Biozentrum has lost an outstanding scientist, an important figure in shaping the institute and exceptional individual.
Walter Keller was born on August 15th, 1938, in Landau in the Pfalz region of Germany. He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the Medical Academy in Düsseldorf in 1962 and then joined the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, where he worked as a research assistant in the Department of Pathology and subsequently in the Human Genetics department. In the late 60s, he moved to the United States and conducted research at renowned institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. From 1970 to 1976, he worked as a Senior Staff Investigator in the Tumor Viruses Group at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and received his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the State University of New York during that time. In 1976, he was appointed as associate professor to the University of Heidelberg. Four years later, he moved to the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), where he became a research group leader at the Institute for Cell and Tumor Biology. From 1987 until reaching emeritus status in 2008, was Professor of Cell Biology at the Biozentrum, University of Basel. Even after his retirement, he continued his research projects from the Biozentrum’s Emeriti Lounge.
Walter Keller’s research focused on the biochemical aspects of gene expression, in particular the chemical modifications and processing of ribonucleic acids (RNA) and their precursors in the cell. He also studied the phenomenon of so-called RNA editing, a molecular process of modifying the RNA molecules. He was able to demonstrate that the messenger RNA of the glutamate receptor in our brain is changed by editing, which affects the receptor's properties and communication between nerve cells. In his research, he was also successful in reconstructing extremely complex RNA modifications and to elucidate their importance for protein synthesis. With his work, Walter Keller made significant contributions to the field of RNA research. He was an outstanding researcher, who published over 100 scientific articles and was awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 1998 and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the RNA Society in 2007 for his scientific achievements. Walter Keller was also a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), as well as the Academia Europaea.
Walter Keller, with his personal dedication, his enthusiasm for research and his regardful interactions with his colleagues, will remain fondly in our memory. He successfully mentored many young researchers in his lab during the doctoral and post-doctoral studies. In his speech at the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony, he emphasized that scientific success depends not only on luck and “being at the right place at the right time”, but above all on working together with highly competent people. Music was an important compensation to Walter Keller’s intensive research activities and lab work. As enthusiastic bassoonist, he played in the orchestra of the University of Basel as well as various local orchestras. The Biozentrum and the University of Basel will honor the memory of Walter Keller.
Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler