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Interview with Günter Blobel

In this interview, Günter Blobel speaks about the university’s importance to him after 50 years at Rockefeller and his role in forging a molecular approach to cell biology.

He describes coming to the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied cell fractionation, and coming to The Rockefeller University for his postdoctoral studies. Blobel puts the signal sequence hypothesis, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1999, into context, explaining how his discoveries fit into our developing understanding of the cell. He tells the story of his research to prove his hypothesis that each protein has a signal sequence, essentially a zip code, that sends it to the membrane for which it is intended. And he recalls some of the opposition he encountered from fellow researchers, particularly for the idea of protein-conducting channels.

Born in 1936, Blobel talks about growing up in rural Silesia, fleeing with his family ahead of the Red Army in 1945, resettling in the small city of Freiberg in what became East Germany, and fleeing again to study medicine in West Germany. Having donated his Nobel Prize award to reconstructing the Frauenkirche in Dresden, a city he first saw just days before the bombing in February 1945, Blobel shares his thoughts on the importance of rebuilding cultural icons in Germany.

This short film is excerpted from the oral history interview conducted with Günter Blobel on February 16, 2017.