Nikolaus Pfanner studied Medicine at the University of Munich, Germany. He received his training in biochemistry and molecular cell biology in the laboratories of Walter Neupert (University of Munich) and James E. Rothman (Princeton University, New Jersey). Since 1992 he has been Professor of Biochemistry and Chair of the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Freiburg, Germany. From 2009 – 2011 he was President of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM).
Nikolaus Pfanner studies protein sorting in cells and focuses on the biogenesis and assembly of mitochondria. His research team performed the first comprehensive analysis of the proteome of an entire cell organelle (mitochondria), leading to the discovery of more than 200 new mitochondrial proteins. He identified novel pathways and machineries for the import of proteins into mitochondria and their assembly into oligomeric complexes. His recent studies showed that protein translocases do not act as independent units but are integrated into a network of machineries that function in bioenergetics, membrane morphology, signalling and protein quality control, revealing a higher level of organisation of cell organelles. The work of Nikolaus Pfanner was recognized with numerous awards and honours. These include the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Award of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Max Planck Research Award for International Cooperation and the Research Award of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), the German Academy of Sciences and the Academia Europaea.