Nobel Prize Recipient. Adolf Butenandt, a German chemist, received international recognition after being awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for, according to the Nobel Prize committee, “his work on sex hormones.” He shared jointly the Nobel Prize with Leopold Ruzicka. In 1939 Butenandt was forced by the Nazi Party to refuse the Nobel Prize, but accepted it in 1949 after World War II. Since 1934, he had received 19 nominations for the Nobel candidacy. Starting in 1929, he had a breakthrough in human physiology by the first-time mapping of several hormones that specifically apply to men and women, creating pure crystalline forms of each. At the same time, but independent of Butenant’s research, an American biochemist, Edward Adelbert Doisy, was finding the same results, and for this, Doisy received the 1943 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Butenandt’s pioneer research played an important part in documenting the functioning of the female reproductive cycle and years later, the development of “the Pill” or oral contraceptives. He isolated carcinogenic properties of these hormones. In the 1940s, he studied eye-color defects in insects as related to metabolic problems and discovered that dark-colored eyes were stronger genetically than light-colored eyes. In the 1950s, he located the sexual hormones in insects. He was credited with the discovery and naming of the silkworm moth pheromone, Bombykol in 1959. Born the second child of a businessman, he studied chemistry at the Universities of Marburg and Göttingen. In 1927 he graduated at the University of Göttingen, where his advisor was Adolf Windaus, the 1928 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient. Beginning his academic career, he taught at University of Göttingen and at the Institute of Technology in Danzig in Poland. Beginning in 1936, he became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biochemistry in Berlin. As the result of Allied bombings during World War II of the facility, the institute was moved to Tübingen in 1944, thus he became a professor at the University of Tubingen. In 1956, when the institute relocated to Munich, he became a professor at the University of Munich. He also served as president of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science from 1960 to 1972. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received a host of European awards, six honorary doctorate degrees, and was a member of scientific societies in the United States, Europe, and Japan. He married in 1931; the couple had two sons and five daughters, and after sixty-four years of marriage, he and his wife died at an elderly age in the same year of 1995. According to his obituary, in review of Butenandt's scientific achievements, one can say that he was always a "first". He isolated the first sex hormones, he elucidated the action of genes for the first time, he isolated the first insect hormone and the first pheromone.
Bio by: Linda Davis