Johann Deisenhofer: 1988 - Chemistry

Johann Deisenhofer
Johann Deisenhofer

Year & Category

1988 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (jointly with Robert Huber and Hartmut Michel)

Prize motivation

"For the determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre"

At the time of the award he worked at

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Dallas, TX, USA, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

About his research

Johann Deisenhofer was honoured with the 1988 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his important contribution to research into photosynthesis.
Johann Deisenhofer made significant achievements in the field of X-ray structure analysis. His know-how made a decisive contribution to deciphering the light reaction in photosynthesis. Deisenhofer facilitated a deeper understanding of this extremely important chemical process.

X-ray expert
After Hartmut Michel succeeded in achieving the very first crystallisation of a membrane protein complex (the reaction centre of photosynthesis) at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried in 1981, he wanted to carry out an X-ray structure analysis of the crystal. Michel asked Robert Huber, the head of the appropriate department, for his support – and suggested Johann Deisenhofer as his partner. Deisenhofer used X-rays to examine the crystal that Michel had grown. It was a painstaking task that involved a great deal of patience: countless new X-ray images were required until the three-dimensional structure of the photosynthetic reaction centre was finally determined in 1985.

Leading research in the Deisenhofer Lab
The work by Deisenhofer, Huber and Michel enables us to understand how plants transform sunlight into electrochemical energy. The three researchers also demonstrated the importance of proteins for the human body. Enzymes, hormones, membrane proteins are all proteins that have a decisive influence on basic life functions and are therefore of considerable interest in medicine. Deisenhofer’s successful work attracted worldwide attention. In 1988 the researcher accepted an offer from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas (UT Southwestern) to work as professor of biochemistry and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Today Johann Deisenhofer continues to head a work group at UT Southwestern that bears his name.