Gernot Renger (1937–2013): his life, Max-Volmer Laboratory, and photosynthesis research

Abstract

Gernot Renger (October 23, 1937–January 12, 2013), one of the leading biophysicists in the field of photosynthesis research, studied and worked at the Max-Volmer-Institute (MVI) of the Technische Universität Berlin, Germany, for more than 50 years, and thus witnessed the rise and decline of photosynthesis research at this institute, which at its prime was one of the leading centers in this field. We present a tribute to Gernot Renger’s work and life in the context of the history of photosynthesis research of that period, with special focus on the MVI. Gernot will be remembered for his thought-provoking questions and his boundless enthusiasm for science.

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Abbreviations

ADRY:

Acceleration of the deactivation reactions of the water splitting system Y

BBY:

PS II  membrane fragments prepared according to the protocol developed by Berthold, Babcock and Yocum

CCCP:

Carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenyl hydrazone

Chl a :

Chlorophyll a

Chl-a II :

Primary electron donor Chl of PSII (= P680)

CP43, CP47:

Inner chlorophyll-binding antenna proteins of PSII with molecular masses of 43 and 47 kDa, repectively

D1, D2:

Reaction center proteins of PSII

DCMU:

Diuron = 3-(3′-4′-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea

FU Berlin:

Freie Universität Berlin

GDR:

German Democratic Republic

HU Berlin:

Humboldt Universität Berlin

LHC:

Light harvesting complex

MVI:

Max-Volmer-Institute

OEC:

Oxygen-evolving complex

P680:

Primary electron donor of PSII (= Chl a II)

P700:

Primary electron donor of photosystem I

PBP:

Phycobiliprotein

Pheo:

Pheophytin (primary electron acceptor of PSII)

PQ:

Plastoquinone

PSII:

Photosystem II

QA, QB :

Primary and secondary plastoquinone molecules in PSII

ROS:

Reactive oxygen species

Sfb:

Sonderforschungsbereich (CRC, collaborative research center)

Si :

Oxidation states of the oxygen-evolving complex of PSII (i = 0, 1, 2, 3, 4)

SOD:

Superoxide dismutase

TU Berlin:

Technische Universität Berlin

WOC:

Water-oxidizing complex, equivalent of OEC

WSCP:

Water-soluable chlorophyll-binding protein

WWII:

World War II

X320:

An intermediate with an absorption change at 320 nm; an early expression for QA

YD :

Tyrosine D of the D2 protein that can reduce the S2 and S3 states of PSII

YZ :

Tyrosine Z of the D1 protein of PSII that acts as primary electron donor to P680+

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Acknowledgments

We thank Govindjee for his encoragement during writing of this tribute and for his many editorial suggestions, and Dmitriy Shevela for redrawing Figs. 2, 6 and 7. This manuscript was also read and commented by Rajni Govindjee, Wolfgang Junge, Charles Dismukes, Jian-Ren Shen, Vittal Yachandra and Robert Blankenship before its publication.

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Correspondence to Ulrich Siggel or Johannes Messinger.

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This manuscript was invited, edited and accepted by Govindjee, Historical Corner Editor of Photosynthesis Research. It is more than a Tribute as it includes details of the personnel and history of the laboratory, where Gernot Renger had studied and worked. This manuscript, which includes even technical discussion, was read by several others (listed under the Acknowledgment section). Some of their suggestions have been incorporated in this manuscript, but the language and the details are essentially as submitted by the authors.

Appendix

Appendix

Social Life at the Max-Volmer-Institute, Technical University (TU), Berlin

The Max-Volmer-Institute was not only a place of front-line research in Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry of Photosynthesis, but also a rather successful “match-maker”: Wolfgang Weiß married Ulrike Junesch, Raimund Fromme married Petra Meyer; Hermann Gleiter married Elisabeth Haag, Manfred Völker married Marga Müller, and Wolfgang Schröder married Christiane Funk. Gernot Renger was not involved in this activity, as he married Eva Cieslik in 1966 shortly after entering MVI. In the 1960s, the social life at the institute was relatively traditional with weekly gatherings to drink tea and with parties a few days before Christmas (in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966). In 1966 Gernot was “pushed” to act as Santa Claus; but that was not easy for him. Further, we had parties on occasion of the completion of doctorate degrees of students, but they were then, unfortunately, frugal, mostly with some bottles of beer.

Beginning in 1968, the situation changed. In the month of February, several “fetes de carnival” were celebrated (followed in 1969, 1971, 1974 and 1979). We remember Gernot and Eva participating in their Mexican costumes. In the 1970s, on the occasion of completion of doctorate theses, great parties with sketches and skits took place and special examinations related to fancy apparatus and special tasks were conducted, including a road-roller, riding on a pony and even archery. We wonder how many universities around the world have (or had) such fun. Gernot was often involved in these activities. Opulent food and beverages were served. Once there was cooking by the new doctor following a recipe for spinach, taken from a Dutch thesis (Tilly Bakker-Grunwald). And in the evenings, music was played, so that the party would extend with dancing through the evening into the late night with guests of the “fresh doctor” joining in. We mention this since it shows that our institute was more than a group of scientists. Several friendships evolved, some of them are lasting to date. The families of Wolfgang Junge and Wolfgang Haehnel sailed in the Aegeis after the summer school on the island of Spetsai. And Gernot, Wolfgang Junge and Wolfgang Haehnel had a memorable hike with their spouses in the Verwall mountains.

A special activity of the institute was initiated by Hartmann Rüppel. In order to include the members of the technical personnel also scientifically to some degree, excursions were organized to the chemical industry (BASF, Böhringer, Unilever, Geesthacht, Linde): in 1977 to Heidelberg/Mannheim; in 1979 to Hamburg, and in 1981 to München. However, several days of absence from research in Berlin, and not going to a scientific congress was not acceptable to Gernot! In the 1980s the team-spirit of the institute as a whole decreased: the institute became “divided” into several research groups: The groups of H.T. Witt, B. Rumberg, P. Gräber, H. Rüppel and G. Renger. Parties of the Renger group began to take place in restaurants and on special invitation, rather then at the institute. The social climate within the Renger group was good. Gerhard Dohnt, a marathon runner, initiated folks to run at noon in the nearby Tiergarten. A highlight in his group was the 1987 celebration of Gernot’s 50th birthday in the Greek restaurant Olympia. There, Ulrich Siggel and some group members staged the Faustic striving of Gernot for the ultimate truth of the photosynthetic water splitting. An even greater event, of course, was the colloquium and the following party on the occasion of Gernot’s retirement in 2003, when Vladimir Shuvalov, Wim Vermaas and Peter Gräber and many group members from former times were there. Gernot’s 70th birthday party in 2007 was in a café and a restaurant in the Nicolai quarter in the center of Berlin; it was a family event in essence with Bertram Hansum as the only former coworker, and Jochen Vater, Ulrich Siggel, Satham Saphon and Peter Gräber as MVI members from old times. All of us miss Gernot Renger.

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Siggel, U., Schmitt, F. & Messinger, J. Gernot Renger (1937–2013): his life, Max-Volmer Laboratory, and photosynthesis research. Photosynth Res 129, 109–127 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11120-016-0280-8

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Keywords

  • Max-Volmer-Institute
  • Horst T. Witt
  • Photosystem II
  • Oxygen evolving complex
  • Water oxidizing complex (WOC)
  • ADRY agent
  • Mechanism of water splitting