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Friedrich Cramer (1923Ц2003) Nucleic Acid Chemist and Philosopher.

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Friedrich Cramer (1923 – 2003):
Nucleic Acid Chemist and
Friedrich Cramer died on June 24, 2003
shortly before his 80th birthday. In him
we have lost a colleague of great merit, particularly in the
area of nucleic acid
chemistry. Friedrich
Cramer, or Fritz to
his colleagues and
friends, was born in
Breslau on September 20, 1923. Having
been badly woundFriedrich Cramer
ed in Russia in Oc(Self-portrait)
tober 1942, he started studying chemistry a year later in Breslau and continued
his studies in Heidelberg from 1944. He
received his PhD in 1949 with work on
cyclodextrins under the supervision of
Karl Freudenberg. He continued to
work on this class of compounds for his
habilitation, which he completed in
1953. This work formed the basis for
the development of cyclodextrins as
enzyme models. Cramer could show that
compounds enclosed in a cyclodextrin
cavity, as so-called inclusion compounds,
become available for catalytic reactions
through a key – lock interaction similar
to that of an enzyme – substrate complex.[1] These results were of fundamental interest at the time, and Professor
Alexander Todd invited Cramer for a
one-year visit to his laboratory in Cambridge. This laboratory was prominent
in the budding field of nucleic acid
chemistry, and investigations into the
type of linkage of the nucleotide monomers in DNA and RNA formed an
active research program there.
Cramer returned to Heidelberg in
1954 and accepted the position of Pro-
fessor of Organic Chemistry at the
Technische Hochschule Darmstadt in
1959. There he built upon his experience
gained in Cambridge and began work on
the chemical synthesis of oligonucleotides. In 1962 he became a member of
the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and Director of the Department of Chemistry at
the newly created Institute for Experimental Medicine in G:ttingen. With
the new opportunities available to him
at this institute he focused on the study
of nucleic acids. He was not only interested in the chemical synthesis of oligonucleotides, but he extended his research to tRNA and in particular to the
enzymes that play a role in the aminoacylation of tRNA. These studies led to
the first attempts to crystallize tRNA.
Through probably the first use of nucleotide analogues it was also discovered that aminoacyl synthases occur in
two classes, depending on whether they
catalyze the binding of the amino acid
residue to the 2’ or the 3’ hydroxy
group.[2] This classification was later
fully confirmed by X-ray structural
analysis in another laboratory. Work on
the specificity of aminoacylation formed
the basis for a better understanding of
this reaction, which is so important for
cell function.[3] The work in Cramer=s
department in many respects formed a
foundation for the bioorganic research
of nucleic acids, particularly in such
modern areas as RNA research.
Friedrich Cramer created a very
stimulating and lively atmosphere in
his department, to which his dislike of
hierarchical structures certainly contributed, and he permitted the members of
his department to work quite independently. The department was also enriched
by the presence of many postdoctoral
researchers from abroad at a time when
this was not the rule in Germany. His
contact with Professor Jan Michalski
from Poland, who Cramer had met in
Cambridge, laid the foundation for a
$ 2003 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
lively exchange with Poland, which has
continued to this day. These international relations also included close contacts with Israel. This stimulating and
open environment served to encourage
many members of the department to
stay in research and to continue to work
in the field of nucleic acids.
Friedrich Cramer had many varied
interests and talents. For example, his
sketchbook was a constant companion,
and he produced portraits of colleagues
and paintings. As the years went on his
interest in the philosophical component
of the sciences grew, and themes such as
complexity, chaos, and the ethics of gene
technology attracted his particular attention. These thoughts were the subject
of many lectures, articles, and books. His
concerns about the significance of science for society as a whole, not frequently encountered among scientists,
led to his election as a Fellow of the
Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin for 1989/
90 and as a member of the G:ttinger
Colloquium for Ethical Questions in
Science and Technology.
Friedrich Cramer=s death coincides
with the end of an era following the
Second World War during which the
rebuilding of respect and recognition for
Germany was of prime concern. Cramer
contributed greatly to this endeavor,
alongside his considerable contributions
to nucleic acid research.[4]
Fritz Eckstein
Max-Planck-Institut fr Experimentelle
Medizin, Gttingen (Germany)
[1] F. Cramer, Chem. Ber. 1953, 86, 1576.
[2] M. Sprinzl, K. H. Scheit, H. Sternbach, F.
von der Haar, F. Cramer, Biochem. Biophys.
Res. Commun. 1973, 51, 881.
[3] F. von der Haar, F. Cramer Biochemistry
1976, 15, 4131.
[4] F. Cramer, W. Feist, Angew. Chem. 1993,
105, 198; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1993,
32, 190.
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2003, 42, 3850
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acid, chemists, nuclei, 1923ц2003, philosophy, friedrich, cramer
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