TUM Ambassador Gerhard Schenk

“I want to bring about a global impact”

TUM Ambassador Gerhard Schenk is an avid researcher and networker. Together with his colleagues at TUM, the enzyme expert is looking to advance the production of bio-based chemicals, a key industry for the future.

Professor Dr. Gerhard Schenk’s life revolves around his wife and his four children – and around enzymes. As a professor of Biochemistry at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, the important catalysts for biochemical reactions has been the focus of his research for years. His domain includes enzymes able to induce resistance to antibiotics, break down pesticides or produce high-value chemicals. Thus, his work has considerable and wide-ranging appeal in the fields of Medicine and Drug Development as well as for the benefit of the environment and climate.

Gerhard Schenk is living and breathing research. And also networking is in his blood. “I am very keen to initiate international and multidisciplinary collaborations,” he says. “I want to bring about a global impact.” In achieving this goal, TUM has been a longtime partner. As an Erasmus visiting professor, Gerhard Schenk has been here several times. He is working on a number of significant projects together with his colleagues. And many more are in the making.

TUM Ambassador Gerhard Schenk with researchers from TUM and UQ.

In face-to-face meetings scientists from TUM and UQ regularly exchange ideas on their joint research domain of the global Bioeconomy. The picture shows the TUM delegation with Australian colleagues on the city campus of TUM (Photo: private).

First a Language Course, Then a Professorship

Gerhard Schenk’s research career and his passion for enzymes began in Switzerland. In 1992, he was assigned to extract an enzyme from milk and investigate its properties as part of his diploma thesis at the University of Bern. “From then on, I was fascinated by enzymes,” he recalls. “Enzymes, their structures and their extraordinary efficiency as catalysts became my passion.”

Although Gerhard Schenk had been offered a doctoral position in his home country of Switzerland, he decided to do an English course in Australia, the destination of his dreams. Meanwhile, he has lived there for almost thirty years. He is fluent in English now and his research in the field of Enzymology earned him a professorship at the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland. The university in Australia is one of the world’s leading institutions for research and teaching.

Cutting-edge Research

When Gerhard Schenk and TUM Professor Dr. Volker Sieber met at a symposium at Campus Weihenstephan in 2015, they immediately forged a collaborative relationship. Both scientists share the same goal: use their research to boost the global Bioeconomy. The highly topical concept of Bioeconomy aims at transforming today’s industries, which still rely primarily on fossil fuels, into clean industries for the future, which are based on renewable resources.

Our research efforts complement and advance each other.

Sugar (sugar beet, sugar cane), for example, is a biogenic and thus renewable resource. In collaboration with Volker Sieber, Gerhard Schenk was able to optimize enzymes in such a way that they can convert sugar into biofuel even more efficiently. Sustainably produced biofuels have the potential to replace the environmentally harmful fossil fuels diesel, gasoline and natural gas in the long term and to play an important role in tomorrow’s energy mix. “Our research efforts in this field complement and advance each other,” says Gerhard Schenk. “This also benefits doctoral students and postdocs at both universities. The project will continue for many years to come.”

Sustainable Alliance

In June 2018, representatives of TUM, UQ and the Brazilian UNESP (Universidade Estadual Paulista) signed a trilateral agreement. The international university network’s goal is to research new biotechnologies for a cleaner and greener future. The Global Bioeconomy Alliance between these three top universities is based at TUM’s Campus for Biotechnology and Sustainability in Straubing.

From the very beginning, Gerhard Schenk was instrumental in setting up the network. In 2021, TUM and UQ finally sealed their multifaceted cooperation in an official flagship partnership. The mutual goal of the flagship partners is to create a strong transnational scientific bridge in order to tackle issues of great social importance and more effectively. TUM President Thomas F. Hofmann emphasizes: “Our aim is not only to forge even closer ties between our universities, but also to develop sustainable fields of innovation with a far-reaching impact. This includes joint research projects as well as exchange programs for students and programs to support entrepreneurs.”

For his scientific achievements and commitment to networking, Gerhard Schenk was selected as a TUM Ambassador by President Hofmann in 2020. “This award is a tremendous honor for me,” says Gerhard Schenk. “But the title really belongs to the entire team that built the partnership between TUM and UQ.”