May 19, 2015 — The University of Vienna has presented an honorary doctorate to Prof. Hanna Engelberg-Kulka, a microbiologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine. The award was conferred in the presence of Austria’s President Heinz W. Fischer as the University of Vienna marked its 650th anniversary.
Born in 1932 in Vienna, Engelberg-Kulka is the Etta Rosensohn Chair of Bacteriology, conducting advanced research in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the Institute for Medical Research. She studied at Hebrew University before becoming a professor there in 1985. Since the early 1990s, Engelberg-Kulka has regularly visited the Max F. Perutz Laboratories at the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna.
Prof. Engelberg-Kulka and colleagues have made significant contributions to science in the study of several biological phenomena, such as bacterial programmed cell death, communication and antibiotics. These discoveries include a new biological molecule, the Extracellular Death Factor (EDF), which was found to be a signaling communication peptide acting between bacteria and triggering bacterial cell death from outside the cells.
Other areas of progress include an additional bacterial death system that leads to apoptotic cell death which has characteristics similar to cell death in higher organisms; and an additional novel family of quorum sensing peptides that are mediating interspecies bacterial cell death and are being studied as a novel class of antimicrobial agents. Facing a huge crisis worldwide not having an antibiotic pipeline, this possibility is exciting.
Recent research led by Prof. Engelberg-Kulka, along with Prof. Isabella Moll of the University of Vienna, showed for the first time a stress-induced machinery of protein synthesis can destroy bacteria cells — a discovery that also could help scientists create a new generation of powerful drugs to replace antibiotics that in recent years become less effective.
Prof. Engelberg-Kulka is the recipient of numerous professional prizes and awards. Her dedicated service to Hebrew University has included serving as Chairperson of the Dept. of Molecular Biology and as a Member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors.
Other high-achievers honored with University of Vienna honorary doctorates were the writer, literary scholar and Holocaust survivor Ruth Klüger; the scientist Martin Karplus, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; the historian John Boyer; the jurist Heinrich Honsell; and the mathematician Maxim Kontsevich