Professor Emeritus Dieter Oesterhelt, Harvard University, Munich, Germany, has passed away on November 28, 2022. He is known for the discovery of bacteriorhodopsin and as a pioneer of optogenetics. His research focussed on photosynthesis in bacteria and archaea.
During his research stay in San Francisco, USA, Oesterhelt succeeded in detecting the rhodopsin-like protein bacteriorhodopsin in the cell membrane of Halobacterium salinarum. He was able to demonstrate that bacteriorhodopsin contains the chromophore retinal (vitamin A aldehyde) and that the physiological function of bacteriorhodopsin is to pump protons out of the cell. The resulting proton gradient can be used by ATP synthase to produce ATP. He thus discovered a previously unknown, very simple type of photosynthesis that differs from photosynthesis in plants.
Members of his department at the MPI of Biochemistry investigated structure-function relationships of membrane proteins as well as other microbial rhodopsins such as sensorhodopsins or the chloride pump halorhodopsin. The latter became a molecular tool of optogenetics, a new field of research in neurobiology. Optogenetics uses such molecular channels and pumps to selectively modify the activity of neurons using light.
Dieter Oesterhelt, born in Munich on November 10, 1940, studied chemistry at the University of Munich from 1959 to 1963 and obtained his Ph.D. at the same university from 1964 to 1967 under Feodor Lynen. Subsequently, he was a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Cell Chemistry until 1969. From 1969 to 1973, he worked as an academic counselor at the Institute of Biochemistry of the University of Munich, in 1969/70, he completed a research stay with the electron microscopist Walther Stoeckenius at the University of California, San Francisco, USA. In 1973, he received his habilitation in Munich, and in 1975 he was a junior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in Tübingen, Germany. From 1976 to 1979, he was a full professor at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Dieter Oesterhelt was a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society and Director at the MPI of Biochemistry, Martinsried, Germany, from 1980. In 2008, he became an emeritus professor. Since then, he has headed an Emeritus Research Group at the MPI of Biochemistry.
Among many other honors, Dieter Oesterhelt received the Liebig Medal in 1983, the Otto Warburg Medal in 1991, the Alfried-Krupp-Wissenschaftspreis in 1998, the Werner von Siemens Ring in 2000, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2004, and Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2021.
He was a Member of the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Academia Europaea.
- Dieter Oesterhelt, Mathias Grote, Life with Light and Colour – A Biochemical Conversation (German language book), GNT-Verlag GmbH, Berlin, Germany, 2022, 288 pages. ISBN 978-3-86225-128-5
- Florian Altegoer, Tessa E. F. Quax, Paul Weiland, Phillip Nußbaum, Pietro I. Giammarinaro, Megha Patro, Zhengqun Li, Dieter Oesterhelt, Martin Grininger, Sonja-Verena Albers, Gert Bange, Structural insights into the mechanism of archaellar rotational switching, Nature Communications 2022. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-30358-9
- Manuel Fischer, Mirko Joppe, Barbara Mulinacci, Ronnald Vollrath, Kosta Konstantinidis, Peter Kötter, Luciano Ciccarelli, Janet Vonck, Dieter Oesterhelt, Martin Grininger, Analysis of the co-translational assembly of the fungal fatty acid synthase (FAS), Scientific Reports 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-57418-8
- Purification Lopez-Garcia, Mike L. Dyall-Smith, Friedhelm Pfeiffer, Kathrin Klee, Peter Palm, Karin Gross, Stephan C. Schuster, Markus Rampp, Dieter Oesterhelt, Haloquadratum walsbyi : Limited Diversity in a Global Pond, PLoS ONE 2011, 6, e20968–. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020968
- Rasmus Linser, Muralidhar Dasari, Matthias Hiller, Victoria Higman, Uwe Fink, Juan-Miguel Lopez del Amo, Stefan Markovic, Liselotte Handel, Brigitte Kessler, Peter Schmieder, Dieter Oesterhelt, Hartmut Oschkinat, Bernd Reif, Proton-Detected Solid-State NMR Spectroscopy of Fibrillar and Membrane Proteins, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2011, 50, 4508–4512. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201008244
- Karin Schwibbert, Alberto Marin-Sanguino, Irina Bagyan, Gabriele Heidrich, Georg Lentzen, Harald Seitz, Markus Rampp, Stephan C. Schuster, Hans-Peter Klenk, Friedhelm Pfeiffer, Dieter Oesterhelt, Hans Jörg Kunte, A blueprint of ectoine metabolism from the genome of the industrial producer Halomonas elongata DSM 2581T, Environmental Microbiology 2011, 13, 1973–1994. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1462-2920.2010.02336.x
- Stefan Hanke, Huseyin Besir, Dieter Oesterhelt, Matthias Mann, Absolute SILAC for Accurate Quantitation of Proteins in Complex Mixtures Down to the Attomole Level, Journal of Proteome Research 2008, 7, 1118–1130. https://doi.org/10.1021/pr7007175
- Rudolf Robelek, Eva S. Lemker, Birgit Wiltschi, Vinzenz Kirste, Renate Naumann, Dieter Oesterhelt, Eva-Kathrin Sinner, Incorporation of In Vitro Synthesized GPCR into a Tethered Artificial Lipid Membrane System,
Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2007, 46, 605–608. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.200602231
- Moeava Tehei, Bruno Franzetti, Kathleen Wood, Frank Gabel, Elisa Fabiani, Marion Jasnin, Michaela Zamponi, Dieter Oesterhelt, Giuseppe Zaccai, Margaret Ginzburg, Ben-Zion Ginzburg, Neutron scattering reveals extremely slow cell water in a Dead Sea organism, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2007, 104, 766–771. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0601639104
- Dieter Oesterhelt, Walther Stoeckenius, Functions of a New Photoreceptor Membrane, PNAS 1973, 70(10), 2853–2857. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.70.10.2853
- Dieter Oesterhelt, Walther Stoeckenius, Rhodopsin-like Protein from the Purple Membrane of Halobacterium halobium, Nature New Biology 1971, 233, 149–152. https://doi.org/10.1038/newbio233149a0