Michael Rossmann, a leader in the use of X-ray crystallography and cry-electron microscopy to solve the structure of viruses, died on 14 May 2019 at the age of 88.
I met Michael many times but had the good fortune to interview him during the preparation of the fourth edition of Principles of Virology (ASM Press). In our conversation he told the story of his career, from his early years in Germany, then moving to England and later the United States, and how he became interested in structural biology.
I first met Michael in 1985 at a picornavirus meeting in Seillac, France. His group had just solved the three-dimensional structure of rhinovirus, which along with poliovirus (done by Jim Hogle and his group) was the first for an animal virus. I recall vividly his excitement while presenting the work, in particular that the structure of rhinovirus had similarities to that of a plant virus, southern bean mosaic virus! Michael had brought a wireframe model of the rhinovirus protomer (VP1, VP2, VP3, VP4) and he sat with me outside over lunch for an hour, pointing out residues that we had found (in poliovirus) to be important for infection of mice. That he was willing to spend so much time with a little known virologist speaks volumes about his passion for science.
In Davis, CA, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Virology, I was chairing a session in which Michael was talking. Backstage he said, with a smile, that he hoped I would not say anything bad about him in my introduction. This comment was a consequence of a small disagreement we had in previous years. I assured him that I would never do that in public!
I last corresponded with Michael a few years ago when we had interesting results with rhinovirus pertaining to their sensitivity to low pH. He said if we supplied virus, he would be happy to have someone solve the structure of the virus.
My one-sentence summary of Michael is that he was always intense, but also had a good sense of humor.