of Günter Blobel
Blobel, M.D., Ph.D.
Cell biologist Günter Blobel, M.D., Ph.D.,
John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor at The Rockefeller University
and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, studies the
process by which newly made proteins are transported across the
membranes of cell structures called organelles. Because the accurate
distribution of proteins to their proper places in the cell is necessary
for a cell to function, these findings have an immediate bearing
on many disease, including cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease
An average cell possesses about a billion protein
molecules that exist in thousands of types and constantly need replacement.
Making proteins and shipping them to appropriate destinations, such
as the cell's internal organelles, is a vital activity in cells.
Proteins are manufactured by cellular structures called ribosomes.
Pioneering research by Blobel and his associates revealed how proteins
are transported from ribosomes and integrated into other organelles
or transported out of the cell.
Work in Blobel's laboratory revealed the existence
of a zip code system in the cell. Each newly made protein has an
organelle-specific address, a stretch of the protein referred to
as a signal sequence that is recognized by receptors on an organelle's
surface. Blobel and his colleagues also showed that, for at least
one organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum, the binding of the
signal sequence to its receptor opens a watery channel in the membrane
through which the protein can travel. Blobel now works on identifying
similar channels in other organelles.
Current research in Blobel's laboratory also
explores the movement of proteins across nuclear pore complexes
(NPCs), huge protein units suspended in the circular openings within
the membrane of a cell's nucleus. NPCs can accommodate the passage
of large molecular assemblies, such as RNA or DNA bound to proteins.
Each NPC mediates as many as 10 import and 10 export events per
second. His laboratory recently determined the three-dimensional
structure of a complex of transport factors called karyopherin-beta2,
which binds to proteins and targets them to the nuclear pore complex.
Blobel was born in Waltersdorf, Germany, on May
21, 1936. He received his medical degree in 1960 from the University
of Tübingen and a doctoral degree in oncology in 1967 from
the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he worked with Van
R. Potter, Ph.D., in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.
(center) and members of his lab
at Rockefeller University
He joined The Rockefeller University in 1967
as a postdoctoral fellow in the cell biology laboratory of Professor
Emeritus Philip Siekevitz, Ph.D., and Nobel laureate George Palade,
M.D. Blobel was appointed an assistant professor in 1969, associate
professor in 1973, professor in 1976 and John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Professor in 1992. He received a Howard
Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) appointment in 1986 when
HHMI established a unit at The Rockefeller University.
In addition to a 1993 Albert Lasker Basic Medical
Research Award, Blobel received Mayor's Award for Excellence in
Science and Technology in 1997, the King Faisal Award in 1996, the
Ciba Drew Award in Biomedical Research in 1995, the National Academy
of Sciences' 1978 U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology
and a 1982 Gairdner Foundation International Award. He became a
member of the Leopoldina and was elected to membership in
National Academy of Sciences in 1983, the year
he received the Academy's Richard Lounsbery Award, for work in "uncovering
the molecular interactions that control the traffic of newly synthesized
proteins in eukaryotic cells; for his incisive experiments; and
for the beauty of the findings."
Blobel also has received the 1983 Warburg Medal,
the highest award of the German Biochemical Society; the V. D. Mattia
Award of the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology; the E. B. Wilson
Award from the American Society for Cell Biology; Columbia University's
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize; the Waterford Bio-Medical Science Award;
and the Max-Planck Forschungspreis. He is a member of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, associate member of the European Molecular
Biology Organization, a member of the American Philosophical Society
and an honorary member of the German Society of Cell Biology and
of the Japanese Biochemical Society. He served as president of the
American Society for Cell Biology in 1990.
Blobel is founder and president of the board
of directors of the Friends of Dresden Inc., an independent American
initiative that supports the reconstruction, restoration and preservation
of Dresden's artistic and architectural legacy. Blobel and his wife,
Laura Maioglio, owner of Barbetta Restaurant in New York City, reside
in New York City and Fubine, Piemonte, Italy