News: In Memoriam – Joachim W. Engels (1944-2018)


Joachim W. Engels, professor emeritus and senior professor of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Goethe University of Frankfurt/Main (Germany) sadly passed away on Tuesday July, 10, 2018.

Joachim W. Engels studied chemistry between 1964-1968 at the Free University Berlin, Germany and the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany where he graduated from chemistry department in 1969. He got a PhD from Regensburg University, Germany in 1972. In 1972 he joined the group of Eugene van Tamelen as a Post Doc at Stanford University, USA. Back to Germany in 1973 he moved to the University of Konstanz and earned a Habilitation in 1979. During his Habilitation he started working on Nucleotide Chemistry. After finishing his Habilitation he joined the group of Marvin H. Caruthers at the University of Colorado, USA from 1981-1982 as a visiting scientist. From 1982 he worked as a senior scientist in the DNA-synthesis division at Hoechst Company till 1985. Since 1985, he became first associate professor for Organic Chemistry at Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main in the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology. In 1993 he was promoted to a full professor for Bioorganic Chemistry in Frankfurt. He retired in 2011 but the University of Frankfurt honored his many years of service for example as being the dean of the Department of Chemistry or the acting director of the Institute of Organic Chemistry by giving him the title of Senior Professor in 2012.

During his long and illustrious career in Frankfurt, Joachim W. Engels was interested mainly in the chemistry of DNA- and RNA. His scientific expertise is focused on the synthesis of DNA and RNA and their tailor-made analogues e.g. comprising (stereoselectively formed) methyl phosphonate backbones for potentially analytical and biological uses. For therapeutic purposes modified synthetic oligonucleotides have been constructed to fight cancer and viruses through Antisense oligonucleotides, Ribozymes, CpG-oligos and RNAi. For his analytical focus a novel concept of DNA sequencing was developed that allowed a fast, parallel, and precise analysis of structure. In addition, distance measurement in RNA and DNA was made possible by introducing spin labels for EPR experiments. In the polypeptide field he has studied the folding and secretion of the α-amylase inhibitor Parvulustat in S. lividans. Joachim W. Engels has published more than 250 papers, one textbook on Bioanalytics and got 24 patents. Additionally he was an engaged university professor who loved to teach students of all levels during their program and has supervised and inspired numerous Ph.D. students, post-docs and young investigators.

In 2001 he founded a collaborative research center (SFB 579) focused on “RNA-ligand-interactions” supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and acted as its spokesman till 2007.

He held several Honorary Guest Professorships, 1989 at Chiba Institute, Japan, 1998 Hokkaido University Japan, 2004 Shandong University, 2010 Cadi-Ayyad University in Marrakech, Marocco and 2012 University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He was selected as an academician of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft (Strassbourg/Frankfurt) in 1997 and was elected in 2013 till today as president.

He served as president of the International Society of Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids from 2005-2006.

Joachim W. Engels will remain in our memory as a passionate and creative scientist, with a high level of curiosity and productivity, and as a person, a very generous man. He leaves behind him his wife named Barbara and two daughters and a son.

Prof. Dr. Chris Meier, Hamburg University, Germany