“We are proud and fortunate to have a figure like Jens Reich at the MDC. Thanks to his work, his thinking and his straightforward manner, he has served as a role model for our staff. He is invaluable to us,” says Professor Walter Rosenthal, board chairman and scientific director of the MDC, praising the scholar.
In recent years Professor Reich has increasingly devoted himself to the philosophical, sociological and religious aspects of bioethics. In 2001 the cabinet of the German federal government appointed him to the newly created National Ethics Council. In 2005 he was reappointed to this body, this time as deputy chairman. In 2008 the president of the German Bundestag, Professor Norbert Lammert, appointed him to the German Ethics Council, the successor organization to the National Ethics Council. He remained a member until 2012.
Professor Reich has been teaching bioethics since 2002 – first at the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA) in Berlin-Buch and then at Bard College Berlin, a private, state-accredited university that took over the ECLA in 2012. Bard College is a prestigious American university whose main campus is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Professor Reich holds two lectures a week in English on its Berlin campus.
Until 2011 Professor Reich coordinated a collaborative research project at the MDC together with a research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, and the University of Heidelberg. The multi-year project focused on the systems biology of human iron metabolism and its pathological dysregulation. In addition, for many years Professor Reich studied bioinformatics and worked with large data sets. Among other things, he searched databases for genes that are important for cholesterol metabolism.
“Don’t let your job keep you from taking advantage of other freedoms”
When Professor Reich looks at the way science is practiced today, he is particularly concerned about the plight of young researchers. “I don’t envy them the nomadic lifestyle they’re often forced to live due to today’s competitive and irregular project research. They should take advantage of the freedoms that we could only dream of in our younger years (at least in the East bloc). I don’t think society will have such a rosy future in the coming decades. When these young scientists move from one round-the-clock job to the next, they mustn’t forget to enjoy their lives as well, depending on their personal inclinations and talents – by which I mean interests, friendships, partnerships, family.”
Don’t focus on data at the expense of experimenting
When it comes to the research work itself, Professor Reich – who describes the active years of his youth as coinciding with “the romantic phase of modern biology” – is reluctant to give advice, noting only that everything is very different today. But he remains convinced that “despite the need for complete data records, a precisely designed experiment continues to be the most exciting endeavour in science. After conscientious preparations, you test a bold hypothesis in an experiment set up in such a way that nature can provide only a yes or no answer. Perhaps you’ll pull off only one of these key experiments in your life. It doesn’t have to be a sensation, it’s the intellectual thrill that counts. Have I had this experience myself? Maybe once or twice, although the experiments never led to any groundbreaking findings. But that doesn’t spoil the memory of it.”
Born in Göttingen in 1939, Professor Reich began working in Berlin-Buch in 1968. From 1992 until he retired in 2004 he served as a research group leader in medical genome research at the MDC. From 1998 to 2004 he was a C4 professor of bioinformatics at Humboldt University Berlin. In the 1980s Professor Reich played a central role in the civil rights movement in the GDR and in 1989/90 was one of the founders of the “New Forum”.
Professor Reich has been honoured on numerous occasions for his scientific, social and political activities. In 1991 he was awarded the Theodor Heuss Prize together with other East German civil rights activists, including Germany’s current federal president, Joachim Gauck. He received the Anna Krüger Prize in 1993, the first year it was awarded, for his “fine, easily understandable scholarly language”. In 1994 he was an independent candidate for the office of federal president.
In 1996 the Society of German Natural Scientists and Medical Doctors presented Professor Reich with the Lorenz Oken Medal in recognition of his “varied outstanding contributions, orally and in writing, to developments in gene research”. In 1998 he won the Urania Medal of the Berlin-based Urania Society, which is devoted to scientific education, and in 2000 he was the recipient of the National Prize of the German National Foundation. In 2009 the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft honoured him with the Carl Friedrich von Weiszsäcker Award for outstanding scientific achievement and personal and political courage. That same year the City of Marbach presented him with the Schiller Prize.
Professor Reich has over 70 scientific publications to his credit and has also written numerous essays on gene research for the general press. He is the author of several books, including Rückkehr nach Europa (Return to Europe, 1991), Abschied von den Lebenslügen (Farewell to Illusions, 1992) and Es wird ein Mensch gemacht – Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Gentechnik (A Human Being Is Made – On the Possibilities and Limitations of Gene Technology, 2003). Furthermore, together with Reinhard Renneberg und Manfred Bofinger (illustrator), he authored Liebling, Du hast die Katze geklont! Biotechnologie im Alltag (My Dear, You’ve Cloned the Cat! Biotechnology in Everyday life, 2004).
Professor Reich has been married to the physician Dr. Eva Reich since 1962 and has two daughters, a son and numerous grandchildren.
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 – 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 – 38 33