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Warburg, Otto (Heinrich)

cells techniques studied chemistry

[ vah® boork] (1883–1970) German biochemist: had an important influence on biochemistry through applying chemical techniques.

Warburg was an enormously influential biochemist; his use of chemical methods to attack biological problems led him to ideas and techniques that were widely imitated, and his pupils dominated biochemistry for a generation. He first studied chemistry, at Berlin under , and then medicine at Heidelberg, qualifying in 1911. Except for the years of the First World War, when he served in the Prussian Horse Guards, his life was spent in Berlin, where he headed the Max Planck Institute for Cell Physiology until he retired at 86.

Much of his work was on intracellular respiration, and from 1923 he used the Warburg manometer (or respirometer), in which very thin tissue slices are incubated with a buffered nutrient and their uptake of oxygen is measured by the fall in pressure. With this he studied both normal cellular respiration and model systems, the action of enzyme poisons (such as cyanide) and catalytic metals such as iron, and the activity of cancerous cells. From his work and that of his students (who included ) much information emerged on cell chemistry, enzyme action, coenzymes and the function of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), cancerous cells, and photosynthesis in plant cells. He was an early user of spectroscopy as an invaluable aid to biochemical analysis. Awarded a Nobel Prize in 1931, his later career was marred by his increasingly intolerant attitude to ideas other than his own, which eventually isolated him.

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