MDC researcher Klaus Rajewsky celebrates 80th birthday

Klaus Rajewsky, one of the world’s most influential scientists in the fields of genetics and immunology and a researcher at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), turns 80 on November 12, 2016.

Klaus Rajewsky, whose father was a well-known biophysicist and radiation researcher, initially had no interest in becoming a scientist and instead chose to study medicine. During his time at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, however, he was so excited by the pioneering spirit in the young field of molecular biology that he embarked on a career in science after all. He went on to make outstanding contributions in the fields of genetics and immunology that earned him international recognition. Since 2011, Rajewsky works at the MDC in Berlin.

Fundamental developments in genetics and immunology

In the 1990s, Rajewsky and his colleagues developed conditional gene targeting, which enables specific genes in particular tissues in mice to be turned on or off at any time. This technique is still one of the most important methods for understanding the function of genes and their role in the etiology of diseases and is used in biomedical research laboratories around the globe. Rajewsky was also responsible for identifying B cells as the cells of origin for the malignant disease Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2011, the prominent scientist returned to Germany from Harvard University and established the MDC research group “Immune Regulation and Cancer”, where he continues his work on the normal and malignant differentiation of antibody-forming cells.

Key life events

Klaus Rajewsky was born on November 12, 1936 in Frankfurt am Main. He studied medicine and then chemistry in Frankfurt and Munich. In 1964, following his time as a postdoctoral researcher in Paris, Rajewsky joined the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne. Two years later he became head of the institute’s newly founded Department of Immunology. In 1970, he assumed the newly created professorship for molecular genetics. Until he left Cologne shortly before his retirement in 2001, Rajewsky’s laboratory was an international hotspot of genetic and immunological research. As a Senior Fellow of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), Rajewsky worked with Avrion Mitchison in London and was appointed professor of molecular genetics at the University of Cologne shortly afterwards. From 1996 to 2001, he coordinated the mouse biology program of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Monterotondo near Rome. In 2001, at the age of 65 and after almost 40 years of research in Cologne, Rajewsky became an emeritus professor. Instead of retiring, however, he went to Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked as a professor and principle investigator for 10 years. He has been working as a Senior Group Leader at the MDC since 2011. Rajewsky has received a number of prizes and awards for his work, including the Max Delbrück Medal in 2009, the Körber European Science Prize in 1997, and the Max Planck Research Award and Robert Koch Prize in 1996. He has been a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 1995, a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences since 1994 and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001, and a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 2003.

The MDC honored Klaus Rajewsky’s 80th birthday with a symposium held on November 4 entitled “Mechanisms of Molecular and Cellular Immunity (1964-2016).” Here you can find an interview with Klaus Rajewsky where he talks about topics including his time in Cologne.



Vera Glaßer
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
Head of Communications department (interim)
Tel: +49 30 94 06 - 2120