Ernst Boris Chain

Sir Ernst Boris Chain

Ernst Boris Chain (1945)
Born (1906-06-19)19 June 1906
Berlin, Germany
Died 12 August 1979(1979-08-12) (aged 73)
Castlebar, Ireland
Residence Berlin (until 1933)
London (from 1933)
Citizenship German (until 1939)
British (from 1939)
Fields Biochemistry
Institutions Imperial College London
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Alma mater Friedrich Wilhelm University
Known for The development of Penicillin
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1945)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1948)
Knight Bachelor(1969)
Spouse Anne Chain (m. 19481979, his death)

Sir Ernst Boris Chain, FRS[1] (19 June 1906 – 12 August 1979) was a German-born British biochemist, and a 1945 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work on penicillin.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Life and career

Dr Ernest Chain undertakes an experiment in his office at the School of Pathology at Oxford University in 1944
Ernst Chain in his laboratory.

Chain was born in Berlin, the son of Margarete (née Eisner) and Michael Chain, who was a chemist and industrialist dealing in chemical products.[12][13] His family was Jewish. His father emigrated from Russia to study chemistry abroad and his mother was from Berlin.[14] In 1930, he received his degree in chemistry from Friedrich Wilhelm University.

After the Nazis came to power, Chain understood that, being Jewish, he would no longer be safe in Germany. He left Germany and moved to England, arriving on 2 April 1933 with £10 in his pocket. Geneticist and physiologist J.B.S. Haldane helped him obtain a position at University College Hospital, London.

After a couple of months he was accepted as a PhD student at Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge University, where he began working on phospholipids under the direction of Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins. In 1935, he accepted a job at Oxford University as a lecturer in pathology. During this time he worked on a range of research topics, including snake venoms, tumour metabolism, lysozymes, and biochemistry techniques. Chain was naturalized as a British subject in 1939.[15]

In 1939, he joined Howard Florey to investigate natural antibacterial agents produced by microorganisms. This led him and Florey to revisit the work of Alexander Fleming, who had described penicillin nine years earlier. Chain and Florey went on to discover penicillin's therapeutic action and its chemical composition. He also theorised the structure of penicillin, which was confirmed by X-ray crystallography done by Dorothy Hodgkin. For this research, Chain, Florey, and Fleming received the Nobel Prize in 1945.

Towards the end of World War II, Chain learned his mother and sister had perished in the war. After World War II, Chain moved to Rome, to work at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Superior Institute of Health). He returned to Britain in 1964 as the founder and head of the biochemistry department at Imperial College London, where he stayed until his retirement, specialising in fermentation technologies.[16] He was knighted soon after in 1969.[17]

He was a lifelong friend of Professor Albert Neuberger, whom he met in Berlin in the 1930s.

On 17 March 1948 Chain was appointed a fellow by the Royal Society.

In 1948, he married Anne Beloff-Chain, sister of Renee Soskin, Max Beloff, John Beloff and Nora Beloff, and a biochemist of significant standing herself. In his later life, his Jewish identity became increasingly important to him. He became a member of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot in 1954, and later a member of the executive council. He raised his children securely within the Jewish faith, arranging much extracurricular tuition for them. His views were expressed most clearly in his speech 'Why I am a Jew' given at the World Jewish Congress Conference of Intellectuals in 1965.[2]

On 8 July 1969 Chain was appointed a Knight Bachelor.[18]

Chain died at the Mayo General Hospital in 1979. The Imperial College London biochemistry building is named after him,[16] as is a road in Castlebar.[19]

See also


  1. Abraham, Edward (1983). "Ernst Boris Chain. 19 June 1906-12 August 1979". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 29: 42–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1983.0003. JSTOR 769796.
  2. 1 2 E. P. Abraham (2004). "'Chain, Sir Ernst Boris (1906–1979)". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30913.
  3. Shampo, M. A.; Kyle, R. A. (2000). "Ernst Chain--Nobel Prize for work on penicillin". Mayo Clinic proceedings. Mayo Clinic. 75 (9): 882. doi:10.4065/75.9.882. PMID 10994820.
  4. Raju, T. N. (1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1945: Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955); Sir Ernst Boris Chain (1906-79); and Baron Howard Walter Florey (1898-1968)". Lancet. 353 (9156): 936. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75055-8. PMID 10094026.
  5. Notter, A. (1991). "The difficulties of industrializing penicillin (1928-1942) (Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, Ernst Boris Chain)". Histoire des sciences medicales. 25 (1): 31–38. PMID 11638360.
  6. Abraham, E. P. (1980). "Ernst Chain and Paul Garrod". The Journal of antimicrobial chemotherapy. 6 (4): 423–424. doi:10.1093/jac/6.4.423. PMID 7000741.
  7. Mansford, K. R. (1979). "Sir Ernst Chain, 1906-1979". Nature. 281 (5733): 715–717. doi:10.1038/281715a0. PMID 399328.
  8. Abraham, E. P. (1979). "Obituary: Sir Ernst Boris Chain". The Journal of antibiotics. 32 (10): 1080–1081. doi:10.7164/antibiotics.32.1087. PMID 393682.
  9. "Sir Ernst Chain". British Medical Journal. 2 (6188): 505. 1979. PMC 1595985Freely accessible. PMID 385104.
  10. "Ernst Boris Chain". Lancet. 2 (8139): 427. 1979. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(79)90449-5. PMID 89493.
  11. Wagner, W. H. (1979). "In memoriam, Dr. Ernst Boris Chain". Arzneimittel-Forschung. 29 (10): 1645–1646. PMID 391241.
  12. "Ernst B. Chain". 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  13. Forder, Arderne A. (1984). The more ye mow us down the more we grow: antibiotics in perspective. University of Cape Town.
  14. "Chain, Sir Ernst Boris (1906–1979) German/English Biochemist (Scientist)". 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  15. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34622. p. 2989. 5 May 1939.
  16. 1 2 Martineau, Natasha (5 November 2012). "Sir Ernst Chain is honoured in building naming ceremony". Imperial College London. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  17. "Ernst Boris Chain". 2009. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  18. The London Gazette: no. 44894. p. 7213. 11 July 1969.
  19. Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.


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