Eckard Wimmer

Robert-Koch-Medaille in Gold 2012

The Robert Koch Gold Medal was presented to Professor Eckard Wimmer from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA.

In recognition of his life’s work, Eckard Wimmer was awarded the Robert Koch Gold Medal. He completed his doctorate of natural sciences in organic chemistry at the University of Göttingen in 1962. As a chemist, Wimmer was fascinated by the special characteristics of viruses as both living beings and non-living compounds of organic macromolecules. In 44 years of research into the polio virus, the pathogen which causes infantile paralysis, he published findings which are considered pioneering.
In particular, his achievements include sequencing the genome and explaining the gene structure of the polio virus, discovering a new method of protein translation, the first cell-free synthesis of a virus in an extract of non-infected cells and the first de novo synthesis of an organism (polio virus) without the use of a natural matrix.
The latter work led to the development of new strategies in producing viral vaccines based on computer-designed genomes with hundreds of mutations, and are currently undergoing trials, not only for the polio virus, but also for other human pathogenic viruses. Wimmer’s work played a crucial role in our understanding of the interaction between the virus and its host, and also provided essential information for strategies in combating viruses. If nothing else, he can be considered to have paved the way for the new discipline of synthetic biology.