Pioneer of Clinical Mycology Professor Heinz P. R. Seeliger 1920–1997

In his day, Professor Heinz P. R. Seeliger was one of the most distinguished mycologists at national as well as international level. His textbook “Diagnostik der Pilze des Menschen und seiner Umwelt” [Diagnostics of pathogenic fungi in humans and their environment] (Seeliger/Heymer) is one of the most important standard reference works of mycology; it is available on the internet at www.dmykg.de. With the development of serological diagnostics he has shaped medical mycology.

Seeliger’s engagement initially was not restricted to mycology. Bacteria, like Shigella and Listeria, were his major profession. For his habilitation, however, he increasingly dedicated himself to mycology and performed his most significant work in this field on an international scale as well. He became the worldwide founder of serological diagnostics in mycology with the methods of agglutination and the complement fixation test on which he completed his post-doctoral studies in 1955 in Bonn. His major starting advantage at that time was his good command of the English language which he had acquired after WWII while working at the American army’s central laboratory in Heidelberg. As he had access to English-language literature he always stayed more than one step ahead of the German mycologists. The advantage in knowledge and his language capabilities gained him contacts in the United States and he was given the opportunity to successfully complete the renowned mycology course at Professor Norman Conant’s institute in Durham (Virginia, USA). Knowledge in mycology on an American level as well as a meanwhile international reputation paved his way to the institute for hygiene and microbiology at the medical faculty at the University of Würzburg, Germany where he was given the chair in 1965. Würzburg became a location of particular challenge for him and the Würzburg mycology advanced to be a creative hotbed for mycologists. The world-renowned Staib-Seeliger-Agar was developed in Würzburg with Staib having done the preparatory work. Staib, however, soon moved to Berlin where he founded a mycological laboratory at the local Robert-Koch-Institute; this lab is today headed by Dr. Karin Tintelnot, PD.

There is no doubt, however, that the Würzburg mycologists were the experts for cryptococcus spp. From all over Germany stems were sent to Seeliger; as a result, Würzburg already possessed a unique collection of cryptococcus strains long before AIDS became a subject. Likewise, exotic fungi were identified and diagnosed with the knowledge and experience Seeliger had gathered due to his world-wide contacts and the constant exchange with international mycology. From 1978 to 1982, Seeliger was president of the International Union of Microbiology Societies (IUMS) – the umbrella association of microbiologists, mycologists, and parasitologists from all over the world. Furthermore, he was a member of 14 scientific societies and vice president of the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology (ISHAM) from 1971 to 1975.

From the bequest of Professor Heinz P. R. Seeliger his wife Brigitte established the Seeliger-Foundation. Every year the foundation awards prizes to merited scientists from the three fields of listeria, mycology, and enteritis-pathogens. These are exactly the scientific fields Seeliger had been working in with great dedication. The -- mycology prizes by the Seeliger-Foundation were awarded in 2000 to Prof. H. Korting, Univ. of Munich, in2003 on the occasion of the MYK in Heidelberg to Dr. rer. nat. Bernhardt Hube of the Robert-Koch-Institute in Berlin, in 2006 to Prof. A. Brakhage, Leibniz Institute in Jena and in 2009 to Dr. P. Staib, Leibniz Institute in Jena.

Seeliger put his stamp on international mycology as well. Numerous scientists from abroad came to Würzburg to acquire theoretical knowledge in mycology on a high level. Among these, for example, was Professor Emel Tümbay from Izmir, Turkey. No doubt, she owes her enthusiasm for mycology as well as her scientific career to Seeliger. In 2002, therefore, Professor Tümbay sent out invitations to attend an international Seeliger-symposium which was held in Izmir, Turkey. Based on her education in Würzburg, she had been able to establish mycology in Turkey and she is also a long-time member of the German-speaking mycological society (DMykG). Active in the same manner is another member of the DMykG: Professor Alena Tomsikova of the Karls-University Prague and Pilsen, respectively, has her mycological roots in the Würzburg School, too. The same as Professor Ybola Törok (†) from Budapest, Hungary who lived in Würzburg for several months to complete her education and who was in charge of the ECMM-meeting held in Budapest in 2003.

Even in Africa Seeliger left his mycological marks. Based on his expertise and within the scope of the German foreign aid, the national Hygiene-Institute was established in Togo and supervised by him and employees from Würzburg, respectively, for decades. The institute in Togo still exists to this day.

Seeliger not only very much cultivated his relations with mycologists in the former German Democratic Republic but also in the entire Eastern Bloc. After the unification the mycological societies of the East and West were very quickly combined to form today’s DMykG e.V.

In 1991, Seeliger himself gave a résumé of his professional life under the title “50 Jahre erlebte Mikrobiologie und Hygiene” [50 years of microbiology and hygiene experienced], published in the Würzburger Medizinhistorische Mitteilungen [Würzburg medical-historical memoranda], volume 9, which revealed the spectrum of his work, many encounters and contacts as well as personal experiences.

Retired but still working indefatigably, he revived his former love of the violin and successfully took lessons which obviously gave him a lot of pleasure before he died in 1997.

Gabriele Henning-Wrobel nach Informationen von Professor Dr. med. Herbert Hof