Cluster of Excellence –
University of Freiburg

Great honor for Michael Reth

University of Freiburg immunologist elected to National Academy of Sciences
Prof. Michael Reth. Foto: BIOSS

The immunologist Prof. Dr. Michael Reth, professor at the University of Freiburg’s Institute of Biology III and scientific director of the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies, has been elected as a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of his research on the activation of B lymphocytes – immune cells that are capable of forming antibodies. With his discovery of the signaling subunits of the B cell antigen receptor (BCR) and the formulation of a new activation model, the “dissociation activation model” (DAM), he elucidated fundamental mechanisms of immune cell activation following an infection or a vaccination. Being elected to join the ranks of the NAS is one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on a scientist. Reth is the first University of Freiburg professor to receive this honor.

In 1989 Nobel Prize winner Prof. Dr. Georges Köhler offered Reth to join him as a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg. In 1995 he became the first holder of the newly created Chair in Molecular Immunology at the University of Freiburg’s Faculty of Biology. In his work he examines how immune cells can be activated to produce antibodies after an infection or immunization. To unravel the signaling processes within the cells, he used synthetic biological methods very early on in his work. These methods enabled him to propose a new research concept for the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS, “Signaling Studies from Analysis to Synthesis,” which has been funded since 2007 by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The immunologist has published more than 215 journal articles and received numerous major research awards, including the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize (1988) and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (1995) from the DFG, the EFIS Schering-Plough European Immunology Prize (2009) from the European Federation of Immunological Sciences, and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (2014) from the Paul Ehrlich Foundation. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the National Academy Leopoldina (Germany). In 2012 he was awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

The NAS was founded in 1863. In addition to Reth, a further 105 scientists from 15 countries were elected as members this year for outstanding and pioneering research: 84 active members from the USA and a further 21 non-voting members from other countries. The members are selected solely on the basis of their scientific excellence. Including the newly elected members, NAS membership totals 2382 active and 484 non-voting members, some 200 of them Nobel laureates. At present there are 38 members in Germany.