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Erwin Chargaff American biochemist

Erwin Chargaff : American biochemist, Writer, Bucovinian

Erwin Chargaff

An Austro Hungarian American biochemist Erwin Chargaff was born on August 11, 1905 in the city of Chernivtsi, which is then called the czernowitz. The city was then situated in the Duchy of Bukovia, Austria-Hungary, back then it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but today it is a part of ukraine.

He is jew emmigrant whose family came to america in nazi era, when hitler is known as death god for jews. After that he went on to become a great biochemist and won many prizes and medals for his contribution in this field.

Life history of Erwin Chargaff

Erwin Chargaff was born to a wealthy family. Erwin’s father was Hermann Chargaff who owned a small , private bank. His mother was Rose Silberstrein. Both of the parents were well educated, German speaking, Austrian jews. They had two children Erwin and his younger sister Greta.

The family home was furnished with a small library, whose books were a source of constant fascination and inspiration for Erwin. He enjoyed a comfortable childhood.
When Erwin was five his father’s bank ran into financial crises, money was embezzled by employees and his father had to look for a job.

World war 1 began in july 1914. The chargaffs were vacationing at a baltic sea resort when the reports striked them about the capturing of Czernowitz by the russian army.

They headed for Vienna, Austria’s capital city.

Erwin was educated at one of Vienna’s best schools The Maximilians Gymnasium he was taught greek and latin and ironically for someone who took such a long time to speak, he turned out to be extraordinarily gifted at learning new skills and languages.

Erwin Chargaff was clearly destined for academia. He chose chemistry because he knew nothing about it. He spent 5 years studying at the University of vienna. in the summer of 1928 he graduated with a Ph.d in chemistry.

After his doctorate Chargaff worked successfully with Yale’s Rudolph Anderson publishing seven papers, discovering two branched chain fatty acids and studying tuberculosis bacterium in between 1928 – 1930. In 1928 he married vera broido, they had a son from this marriage whose name is thomas chargaff.

Unfortunately he and his wife grew homesick so they returned to europe in the summer of 1930. From 1930 to 34 he served as an incharge of bacteriology and public health in the university of berlin.

Where he was forced to leave his post because he was a jew and being a jewish is a crime back then in germany. After that he worked as an associate in the pasteur institute in Paris for some time.

Then he came to America and became an american citizen in 1940.

In 1944 Chargaff became aware of the research carried out by Oswald Avery that suggested that the genes , the heredity code passed from the parents to offspring, were made of DNA.

Chargaff believed Avery’s experiment indicated that living species differed because of differences in their DNA. Now he sought evidence that would support his beliefs.

Here he worked on his many projects and earned love and respect not from America but from the whole world. He left this cruel world on 20th june, 2002.

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Erwin Chargaff’s Books

  • Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature
  • Stimmen im Labyrinth. Über die Natur und ihre Erforschung
  • Armes Amerika – Arme Welt
  • Abscheu vor der Weltgeschichte
  • Kritik der Zukunft
  • Bemerkungen
  • Stimmen im Labyrinth
  • Die Aussicht vom dreizehnten Stock
  • Vorläufiges Ende
  • Unbegreifliches Geheimnis
Erwin chargaff’s books
Erwin chargaff’s books

Contribution of Chargaff

Major Discoveries

Different species have different amount of bases

In 1949 chargaff discovered that the proportions of bases in DNA depend on the Species The DNA comes from
Phoebe levene the most respected worker in the field , had wrongly insisted that the proportion of DNA bases did not vary from species to species

Chargaff said the number of possible arrangements of bases was truly enormous and therefore DNA could very well be the agent of inheritance

Fixed ratios of bases

Chargaff discovered that in DNA from any source the amount of T was equal to A and also the amount of C is equal to G.

Chargaff’s rules

  • In any species the ratio of A:T is 1:1 and G:C is 1:1
  • Other ratios such as A:G for example varies from species to species

Chargaff’s was against molecular biology

He began to despise the whole field of molecular biology declaring that nature would never be understood by merely studying molecules.

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Awards and rewards under the name of chargaff

Although ignored by the Noble committee, chargaff’s contributions were widely accepted elsewhere. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965 . He received many awards including the Pasteur medal in 1949 , Carl neuberg medal in 1958 , charles leopold mayer prize in 1963 etc.

Quotes by Erwin Chargaff


If at one time or another I have brushed a few colleagues the wrong way, I must apologize, I have not realized that they were covered with fur.

Faq about Chargaff

When was Erwin Chargaff born?

11 august 1905.

Why did Chargaff leave europe?

Because at that time Europe was like a living hell for jews.

When did Erwin get his american citizenship?


Did Erwin Chargaff get the nobel?


When did he Die?

He died on 20th june 2002, in manhattan new york, america.

A talented linguist, chargaff never lost love of classical literature , savoring it more often than not in its original language. The efforts and the discoveries made by chargaff would forever be remembered.

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