!!Karl Ullrich, APS Honorary Member\\
''Klaus W. Beyenbach and Eberhard Fromter''\\ \\
Published in [The Physiologist|http://www.the-aps.org/publications/tphys/tphys10x10.pdf] Vol. 53, No. 5, pp 186-187, Oktober 2010. 
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Karl Julius Ullrich, an Honorary
Member of the American Physiological
Society, died on Monday, August 2, 2010
at the age of 84. Departing from us, he
has left a rich legacy in Renal Physiology
and in the Max Planck Institut für
Biophysik which he served as Director
from October 1967 to November 1993.
In the 26 years of unfailing dedication,
he elevated this Institute to a world class
institution of intense activity and highest
quality of research in renal and
epithelial physiology.
\\ \\
Karl was born on Nov. 18, 1925 in
Würzburg. He spent the first ten years of
his life in lower Franconia, where his
father was a schoolteacher and his mother
a home-maker. For two years he
attended a Catholic Boarding School in
Würzburg and then transferred to a public
school in Hammelburg at the foot of
the Rhön-Mountains to which his parents
had moved. At the age of 17 he had to
leave school without a diploma being
called up to military service in WWII. He
served as sergeant in the former
Yugoslavia, Northern Italy and central
Germany and was fortunate to survive
the war; his entire platoon perished under
a collapsing bomb shelter during an air
raid of Regensburg. In the last throws of
the war he was captured by the American
Army and was detained in a prison camp.
In the three months of internment he
took English classes, and he decided to
study medicine. His dad who also had
served in the German Army, was captured
in the Russian theater, and was
unduly executed, as Karl learned in 2007
in an unexpected letter from the Russian
Embassy. Though the letter restored the
integrity of his father, it came too late for
his mother who had passed away 1971.
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Life in post-war Germany was difficult.
Supported by his mother who lived on a
small pension, Karl, her only child, managed
to attend the university in Erlangen
to earn his High School Diploma. He
transferred to the University of Würzburg
where in 1951 he earned his MD degree
with a thesis describing self-designed
experiments on post-infectious orthostatic
disorders. During his internship at the
University of Würzburg, Karl came across
Homer W. Smith’s book ''The Kidney in
Health and Disease''. The book piqued his
interest in renal function and led him to
extend his studies to measurements of
renal blood flow and filtration rate. After
a brief period serving as substitute country
family doctor, Karl decided to devote
himself to basic research.
\\ \\
__The Marburg years.__ In 1952 Karl
joined the laboratory of Prof. Kurt
Kramer in Marburg, a leading cardiovascular
scientist who had worked in aviation
physiology in the US. It was the
time that H. Wirz, B. Hargitay and W.
Kuhn had published the countercurrent
hypothesis of urine concentration and
the pressing questions to Karl were 1)
how do osmotic pressures within the
renal medulla change during urinary
concentration; and 2) What solutes
underlie the observed increase in osmotic
pressure during antidiuresis? At
Karl’s disposal for this work were a torsion
balance, a razor blade holder, a
freezing point osmometer, a flame photometer,
and some Conway dishes for
measuring urea. Karl and Karl Heinz
Jarausch worked day and night: “My
whole recreation was to look out of the
window of my laboratory to the St.
Elisabeth church, a miracle of early
Gothic architecture.” What emerged
from this kind of immersion was the confirmation
of the countercurrent hypothesis.
In their landmark paper of 1956,
Ullrich and Jarausch demonstrated that
the solute gradient in the renal
medullary tissue varies with urine concentration
and is mainly made up by
NaCl and urea. Karl observed that the
medulla contained high concentrations
of the hitherto unknown chemical glycerophosphocholine
and of inositol, substances
that later were found to be
osmolytes involved in the osmotic balance
of medullary cells. In the summer
of 1953 Karl married Marga Halbleib,
whom he had known since school in
Hammelburg. On Karl’s advice she
became a school teacher, and her small
salary was important for the family to
make ends meet, especially after their
first son Martin was born in 1954.
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__The Göttingen years.__ In 1955 Karl
and his family followed Kurt Kramer to
Göttingen, where he continued his studies
and obtained the German equivalent
of the PhD degree. Applying microcatheterization
and micropuncture techniques
in renal medullary structures he
found that collecting ducts absorb NaCl
and urea and secrete hydrogen and
ammonium ions. More important, however,
was the methodological legacy of
the Göttingen years. Karl had a practical
mind, paired with an exuberant imagination
and untiring enthusiasm. He
wanted to understand how renal tubules
work. He conceived a series of microanalytical
techniques which he developed
with his colleagues and the machine
shop of the Physiological Institute. Next
to the equipment for microcatheterization,
Karl devised a micro-cuvette for
photometric measurements in microliter
volumes, a rotating glass-pipette beveller
for smooth punctures of tubules
and blood capillaries, a micro-pump for
constant low-rate perfusion of tubular
loops to analyze efflux or influx of tracer
molecules and the “shrinking droplet”
method for measuring local tubular volume
absorption. These tools and methods
provided the basis for his future
research and were adopted by other laboratories
in the world. Daughter
Susanne was born in 1956, and son
Christoph in 1959. In August 1959 Karl
embarked with his family and his technician
G. Pehling on an ocean-liner for
an eight months sabbatical in the US.
The collaboration with B. Schmidt-
Nielsen and C. Gottschalk proved an
exciting and fruitful experience. The
recirculation of urea was detected as
well as the effect of diet on the urea
efflux from the collecting duct.
\\ \\
__The Berlin years.__ Returning from
the US, Karl was offered the chair of the
new Institute of Physiology at the Free
University of Berlin. He accepted, but
under the condition of having a cochairman,
which allowed O.H. Gauer to
accept the second professorship. Berlin, though a divided city, offered ideal working
conditions. The move to Berlin was
timely, as Karl had his arsenal of new
techniques and positions to fill. Next to
two senior coworkers, he attracted a
strong group of young post-docs, many of
them from abroad. In his own laboratory
Karl measured the zero-net-flux concentration
differences across the proximal
tubule for Na%%sup +/%, Cl %%sup -/%, K+ and Ca%%sup 2+/%
and the quantitative determination of
the osmotic water permeability of rat
proximal and distal tubules.
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__The Frankfurt years.__ In 1967 Karl
was elected a member of the Max-
Planck Society and called to head the
physiological section of the Max-Planck
Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt at
the river Main. The move to Frankfurt
improved opportunities for research. It
allowed him to assemble an astute biochemical
research group and to create
a state of the art facility for electron
microscopy. Close contacts with the
other two sections of the Institute
headed by the physico-chemist R.
Schlögl and the biologist H. Passow
provided theoretical background for
membrane transport and insights into
the structure and function of nonepithelial
cell membranes. In addition,
Schlögl would often rescue Karl’s overspent
research budget at year’s end.
Thus was the general cooperative
atmosphere at the Max Planck
Institute. Its scientific output was
enormous as a result. Karl’s laboratory
continued the micropuncture experiments
on proximal tubules of the rat
kidney in vivo. The driving forces for
absorbing Na+, Cl%%sup -/%, HCO%%sub 3/%%%sup -/% and urea
were determined and the specificity
and Na+ dependence of transporters of
sugars, amino acids, phosphate, sulfate,
lactate and other solutes elucidated.
Karl’s findings were corroborated by
electrophysiological experiments in the
laboratory of E. Frömter and further
corroborated and extended by experiments
on membrane vesicles performed
in the biochemical laboratory
led by R. Kinne, H. Murer and later G.
Burckhardt. Thus a comprehensive picture
was obtained of the transport
properties of the apical and basolateral
cell membrane of mammalian proximal
tubules. In addition, other tubular segments
of the nephron were analyzed
such as the thick ascending limb of the
loop of Henle by the late R. Greger, as
well as sweat glands, the excretory
pancreas and the intestine by I. Schulz
and others. Karl, however, continued to
focus his work on renal proximal
tubules. He developed a method for
“zero-net flux stop-flow capillary perfusion”
which enabled the identification
of different organic anion and cation
transporters in the contraluminal cell
membrane. He used hundreds of synthetic
compounds - among them
analogs, agonists, antagonists, and
drugs - to elucidate the structural
requirements for solute transport in
vivo, thereby elucidating the effects of
charge, hydrophobicity, and hydrogenbonding
on transport crucial for the
design of pharmacological agents.
\\ \\
Karl’s laboratory in Frankfurt
attracted a steady stream of visitors and
scientific collaborators. All those who
over the years became friends with Karl
and Marga fondly recall the generosity
and hospitality which Marga offered at
their home. Visitors also recall the stately
old central villa of the Institute – the
former home of a Jewish banker whose
widow had bequeathed it for the purpose
of research in 1924 – with its inner
courtyard, its magnificent wooden staircase
and stuccoed ceiling in the lecture
hall. Here, no one ever fell asleep, be it
for the high quality of the presented science,
the lively and penetrating discussions,
or the old, uncomfortable hinged
wooden benches, which Karl would not
allow to be replaced.
\\ \\
Karl’s contribution to our understanding
of kidney functions goes far
beyond what has been published under
his name. The research frontiers that
Karl had pioneered have allowed his
students and collaborators to pursue
new knowledge and endeavours. More
than a dozen of them have obtained
leading academic positions in Germany
and other countries. For them and in
turn for their students, Karl is like a
centre of their scientific universe.
\\ \\
Karl received many honours and distinctions.
He was invited to countless
international meetings and delivered
many plenary lectures and keynote
talks. The most prestigious lecture was
perhaps the Walter B Cannon Lecture
delivered at the Centennial Meeting of
the American Physiological Society
(1987). Very early in his career Karl
was elected member of the Academy
Leopoldina, which today is the German
National Academy of Sciences. He was
elected honorary member in nearly a
dozen national and international
learned societies. The list of medals,
awards, prizes and honorary doctorates
he received is long and impressive. Yet
in spite of all the recognition, Karl
remained modest and kind and a man
who would never renege on his word.
Whenever collaborators or students
came to him with a problem of scientific,
technical or personal nature, Karl
would listen and engage himself for the
better. When, for example, visitors complained
that they could not sleep in the
guest room of the Villa because of
pigeons cooing, he himself climbed up
underneath the roof to evict the sleep
offenders. Karl also lent his fervor for
the public good. He made sure that
Biology was taught well in High
School; he helped raise funds for cultural
events and supported the Fine
Arts. During the time of the Cold War
he sustained colleagues in Eastern-
Block countries by maintaining close
contact, by extending frequent invitations,
by providing a work place and
housing at the institute and by helping
them out with chemicals, instruments
or scientific literature.
\\ \\
Not long after Karl’s retirement in
1993 Marga’s health began to diminish.
As she became increasingly disabled,
Karl alone took over the household and
all the care of his wife until she passed
away in 2002. His devotion had taken
a toll on his own health, but he
returned to his former habits of reading
the scientific literature and monitoring
the progress of his large academic
family. On July 31, 2010, the eighth
anniversary of Marga’s passing, Karl
visited her graveside in the company of
his son Christoph, a well known
pianist. On the walk back to his home
Karl’s heart all of sudden decided to
deny further service. He died two days
later, never having reached consciousness
\\ \\
Karl is survived by his children and 7
grandchildren, Christian, Andreas,
Thomas, August, Sophie, Paula and
Lili. Whether we are his own children
or his academic children, we share the
loss of a father. 
\\ \\
Klaus W. Beyenbach
Ithaca, NY
\\ \\
Eberhard Fromter
Frankfurt, Germany
\\ \\
Academia Europaea gratefully acknowledges the permission by Klaus W. Beyenbach and Editors von The Physiologist to publish the obituary.

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