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Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate, Member of the President’s Council, and Honorary Member of the Academy, Dies

The Academy is saddened by the recent loss of Nobel Laureate Günter Blobel.

Published February 21, 2018

Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate, Member of the President’s Council, and Honorary Member of the Academy, Dies

The New York Academy of Sciences is saddened by the loss of Nobel Laureate, Günter Blobel on February 18, 2018. Dr. Blobel is best known for receiving the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that, “proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.”

In 1971 alongside the cell biologist David D. Sabatini, Dr. Blobel proposed the signal hypothesis of protein organization. Their hypothesis suggested that proteins possess a sequence of amino acids that direct proteins to a particular site within the cell.

Colloquially referred to as “cell ZIP codes,” this hypothesis explained how the proteins required for a cell to function are distributed among the correct locations within the cell. This mechanism turned out to be universal, operating similarly in animals, plants and yeast cells, while holding promise for the development of new treatments in a variety of fields and diseases.

Dr. Blobel was born in Waltersdorf, Germany (now part of Poland) in 1936. As he wrote in an autobiographical sketch, 1945 was a turning point in his life, as his family fled from the advancing Russian Army, and he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden. Upon graduating high school in 1954, he moved to West Germany to begin the university education denied to him for being a member of the “capitalist” class. In 1962 he moved to the United States where he finished his PhD in 1966 at the University of Wisconsin. In 1994, he founded Friends of Dresden, Inc., a charity which sought to help rebuild historic Dresden. He later donated the prize money from his Nobel Prize to the organization.

He was named a Member of the New York Academy of Science President’s Council in 2003 and an Honorary Member of the Academy in 2005.

Dr. Blobel is survived by his wife of over 40 years Lauren Maioglio, a New York City restaurateur.