The Centre for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg (ZMBH) is in mourning following the death of Prof. Dr. Heinz Schaller at the age of 78 on April 10, 2010 after a short illness. Heinz Schaller was not only the driving force behind the foundation and development of the ZMBH at the University of Heidelberg, he was also one of the founding fathers of molecular biological research and molecular virology in Germany. His scientific contributions include the synthesis of the first pentanucleotide with a defined sequence in Prof. Khorana’s laboratory in the USA. This was an important step towards the deciphering of the genetic code.
At the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Schaller's team, working in collaboration with the team of Prof. Friedrich Bonhoeffer, identified and characterised DNA polymerase III, the first true replicase. Another highlight was the characterisation of the -10 region of bacterial promoters, which is still referred to as the Pribnow-Schaller box in some textbooks. From around 1978 onwards, Heinz Schaller turned his attention to molecular virology. With colleagues like Ken Murray and Walter Gilbert, Schaller sequenced the genome of the hepatitis B virus and was a key player in the development of a recombinant vaccine against hepatitis B, which is widely used all over the world. The replication pathway and the mechanisms of viral infection were his main research topics up until 2006 when the last PhD student left his laboratory.
Together with his wife he established the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation whose aim is to promote young investigators in the fields of neurobiology and infectious disease research.
In addition, his generous donation of an endowed professorship to the Institute of Hygiene at the University of Heidelberg serves to promote the development of molecular virology. Until last year, Heinz Schaller was to be found at his desk at the ZMBH on virtually a daily basis managing the activities of the foundation.