Bergmann, Max

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(b. Fürth, Germany, 12 February 1886; d New York, N.Y., 7 November 1944),

biochemistry, organic chemistry.

The son of a prosperous coal merchant, Bergmann came of a Jewish family that had lived in Fürth for many generations. After completing his secondary schooling there, he took his first degree in 1907 at the University of Munich and then enrolled in the chemical department of the University of Berlin, headed by Emil Fischer. Working under lgnaz Bloch, Bergmann received the Ph.D. in 1911 with a dissertation on acyl polysulfides and became an assistant to Fischer.

During World War I, Bergmann was exempted from military service because of his position with Fischer, and was closely associated with his chief’s research. In 1920 he was appointed Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and head of the department of chemistry of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Textile Research. A year later he became director of the newly established Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Leather Research in Dresden. Upon Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Bergmann moved to the United States, where he continued his work at the Rockefeller Institute until his death.

Bergmann’s scientific research shows considerable continuity. During his association with Fischer, he made several basic contributions to carbohydrate, lipide, tannin, and amino acid chemistry, including the elucidation of the structure of glucal and the development of new methods for the preparation of α-monoglyeerides. While at Dresden he created one of the leading laboratories for protein chemistry and attracted numerous young chemists from other countries. Among them was Leonidas Zervas, who was associated with Bergmann during the years 1926–1933 and joined him in the United States for two years (1935–1937) before returning to his native Greece. Bergmann, Zervas, and their associates made numerous contributions to the chemistry of amino acids and proteins. The most important of these came in 1932, when they devised the “carbobenzoxy” method for the synthesis of peptides. This marked a new era in protein chemistry, since it opened an easy route to the preparation of peptides that had hitherto been difficult or impossible to synthesize.

At the Rockefeller Institute, Bergmann directed the work of his laboratory along two lines. One was the use of the carbobenzoxy method for the synthesis of peptides to be tested as possible substrates for proteolytic enzymes, such as pepsin. This work, largely pursued by Joseph S. Fruton, led in 1936–1939 to the discovery of the first synthetic peptide substrates for these enzymes, thus opening the way for the study of their specificity. The second line of work was directed to the development of new methods for the quantitative analysis of the amino acid composition of proteins. With Carl Niemann, Bergmann proposed in 1938 that the arrangement of amino acids in a protein chain is periodic; although this hypothesis was later shown to be an oversimplification, it stimulated great experimental activity with proteins. In Bergmann’s laboratory Stanford Moore and William H. Stein began work that led them, after World War II, to the accurate quantitative determination of the amino acid composition of proteins.


I. Original Works. Bergmann published about 330 scientific and technical articles, and held 29 patents. His most important articles were “Über ein allgemeines Verfahren der Peptid-synthese,” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Cesellschaft,65 (1932), 1192–1201. written with L, Zervas;’’Newer Biological Aspects of Protein Chemistry,” in Science,86 (1937), 187–190. written with C. Niemann: and “The Specificity of Proteinases,” in Advances in Enzymology,1 (1941), 63–98, written with J. S. Fruton. A list of Bergmann’s publications is given in the biographical article by B. Helferich in Chemische Berichte,102 (1969), i–xxvi.

II. Secondary Literature. In addition to the article by Helferich (see above), important obituary notices are by H. T. Clarke in Science,102 (1945), 168–170; by C. R. Harington in Journal of the Chemical Society (1945), 716–718; and by A. Neuberger in Nature,155 (1945), 419–420.

Joseph S. Fruton

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