Nencki was born in 1847 in Boczki near Sieradz in western
Poland. He studied medicine in Berlin and obtained the degree
of Doctor of Medicine in 1870 for his studies on the oxidation
of aromatic compounds in animal body. In 1872 he was offered
a position of research assistant at the University of Berne
(Switzerland). In 1876 he was appointed Associate Professor
and a year later full Professor and Director of the Institute
of Medical Chemistry (Medizinisch-Chemisches Institut) at
the University of Berne (presently Institut für Biochemie
und Molekularbiologie). After 20 years in Berne, Nencki accepted
in 1891 the invitation to organize, together with the well-known
Russian physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov, the Institute of Experimental
Medicine in Russia's capital St. Petersburg where he spent
the last decade of his life. He died of stomach cancer in
1901 at the age of 54.
Nencki's scientific interests concentrated,
among others, on urea synthesis, chemistry of purines and
biological oxidation of aromatic compounds. He was also interested
in the structure of proteins, enzymatic processes in the intestine
and bacterial biochemistry. One of his important achievements
was the demonstration that urea is formed from amino acids
rather than being preformed on a protein molecule and that
its biosynthesis is accompanied by carbon dioxide fixation.
He also demonstrated, together with I.P. Pavlov, that liver
is the site of urea synthesis in the animal body. Among Nencki's
greatest successes was his study on the chemical structure
of haemoglobin, the red blood pigment (see below).
Three letters of Nencki to Marchlewski
(recently acquired by the Institute) concerning their collaboration
on haemoglobin and chlorophyll. Leon Marchlewski (1869-1946),
who studied chemical nature of the green plant pigment chlorophyll,
initially in the United Kingdom and then at the Jagiellonian
University in Kraków (Poland), came across Nencki (who by
then was interested in the chemical structure of the red blood
pigment haemoglobin) by chance through professional literature.
The two scientists started correspondence and exchanging samples
of degradation products of their pigments. The ultimate result
of this long-distance collaboration was the discovery of a
close chemical relation between haem and chlorophyll.