“Viruses have always fascinated me,” writes the biochemist Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker in the foreword of his new book. As you read, that excitement overflows. With »My Life with Viruses« one of the most famous research personalities of recent times presents a piece of scientific history about the fascinating world of pathogens. At the same time, they are professional memoirs, because personal memories of numerous encounters with colleagues on the international scientific scene are included. Private anecdotes, such as his unsuccessful smallpox vaccination as a child, the outbreak of the Marburg virus in his father’s company, working as an “auxiliary teacher” for his granddaughters during the Corona lockdown and fly fishing with a Nobel Prize winner are entertaining enrichments.
Viruses have become an indispensable tool
The now 80-year-old is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, was President of the German Research Society (DFG) for a number of years and was a member of the German Bundestag’s Enquête Commission on the opportunities and risks of genetic engineering. For many decades, Winnacker played a key role in shaping the research landscape in Germany and accompanied the revolution in the life sciences that began with the deciphering of the genetic code in the 1960s.
Today the sequencing of DNA, the detection of genes and their proteins are common laboratory procedures. The gene therapy of various hereditary diseases is picking up speed. Winnacker describes all of this in his book and makes it clear in a vivid way that viruses were and are key players in this development, because they served as training objects for basic research and helped to understand the biology of the cell. Today they are indispensable as a genetic engineering tool.
The book is a concise foray into virology, genetics and immunology, but scientifically detailed – and with reference to current research. It provides answers to important questions such as: Are viruses living beings? What role do they play in evolution? How do pandemics arise? Which hurdles have to be overcome in vaccine development? The author presents some viruses in detail, especially those that cause serious diseases such as smallpox, polio, flu, AIDS, Ebola and cancer.