Erwin Chargaff: Bio, Professor, Chargaff’s Laws & Biochemist

Erwin Chargaff was an Austrian biochemist during the Nazi era who discovered two rules which revealed the double helix structure of DNA. He became the citizenship of America in 1940.

At Columbia University medical school, he worked as a professor of biochemistry. After careful observation and experiment on DNA, the biochemist discovered two rules.

The first one was the number of guanine units is equal to the number of cytosine units in DNA, and adenine units are equal to that of thymine units.

The second rule says in single-stranded DNA, the adenine units are approximately equal to that of thymine units. The number of cytosine units is approximately equal to that of guanine. It was discovered in 1968.

American Biologist Erwin Chargaff
American Biologist Erwin Chargaff

He also noticed that the relative amount of adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine are different in different species. With these rules, it is observed that DNA affects genetic material rather than protein.

Chargaff is not the only biochemist but the writer too, he left essential humanistic composition. One of the scientists wrote his memoir named Heraclitean Fire. It is one of the best autobiographies written. It is recommended to everyone who loves science. 

Quick Facts of Erwin Chargaff

Full Name

Erwin Chargaff

Nick Name


Birth Date

August 11, 1905

Age of Death

96 years old



Birth Place

Chernivtsi, Ukraine

Father’s Name

Hermann Chargaff

Mother’s Name

Rosa Silberstein Chargaff




Chargaff’s Rules


Thomas Chargaff




American and Austrian




National Medal of Science for Biological Science

Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Science, US & Canada

Louis Pasteur Medal


Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature

Voices in the labyrinth Erwin Chargaff

Essay on nucleic acids Erwin Chargaff


Vienna University of Technology

Gymnasium Wasagasse


Biochemist, Biologist, and Biographer

Marital Status



Vera Broido

Net Worth

$1 Million – $5 Million

Social Media


Early Life, Family, and Education

Erwin Chargaff was born in Czernowitz, Bukowina, Austria-Hungary, which currently is known as Chernivtsi, Ukraine. He was born in 1905 on August 11th. He was born into a Jewish family. His mother was Rosa Silberstein Chargaff, and his father was a banker, Hermann Chargaff.

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Chargaff’s family moved to Vienna when World War I broke out. He completed his high school in Maximiliangynasium, Vienna, Austria. In 1928 he studied chemistry at the University of Vienna and continued two more years of study at Yale University.

Physical stats

The American biochemist Erwin was 7 feet. He weighed around 89.8Kg. He had dark brown eyes and black hair. Chargaff was born in August under the Leo horoscope.

Career Life of Erwin Chargaff

Chargaff analyzed the nitrogen bases of DNA in different forms of lives, which concluded that the number of purines was not always proportional to pyrimidine. The proportion was equal in all the cells of the individuals of a given, but it varies in different species.

From 1930 – 1933 he was a Public Health teacher at the University of Berlin, then he taught at Pasteur Institute in Paris during 1933 – 1935. He was then continued at Columbia University, teaching biochemistry between 1935 – 1952. He took the position of professor at Columbia University for biochemistry till 1974

Research of  Biologist Erwin Chargaff
Research of Biologist Erwin Chargaff

Most of his career life was spent at Columbia University when he immigrated to Manhattan, New York City, in 1935. He took the position as an assistant professor in 1938 and then a professor in 1952. He got retired after working till 1974 as professor emeritus. Then he moved from the lab to Roosevelt Hospital, where he worked till 1992

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While at Columbia, he wrote numerous scientific papers on his studies of nucleic acids as DNA using chromatographic techniques. Oswald Avery revealed that the molecule is the cause of heredity, then Chargaff became interested in researching DNA in 1944. His enthusiasm let him publish Chargaff’s rules.

Chargaff’s Rules

DNA is formed with an extremely well-designed model. The model shows how the DNA sequence can code several proteins and replicate molecules. Chargaff’s rule explains it more clearly.

Chargaff’s rule explains how DNA is composed of nucleotides containing a nitrogen base, a five-carbon sugar and a phosphate group. Out of four bases, adenine, guanine, cytosine or thymine, it is believed that nucleotides possess one. 

Guanine and Adenine are purine bases, and cytosine and thymine are pyrimidine bases. An Austria-American biochemist researched and experimented with the DNA of different species and proposed his two rules named Chargaff’s Rule.

Discoveries of Erwin Chargaff

Chargaff confirmed that DNA contains one base; a purine is always approximately equal to the number of a second base, a pyrimidine. Explicitly, in any double-stranded DNA, the number of guanine units equals approximately cytosine. The number of adenine units close to the amount of thymine.

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Human DNA comprises 30.9% A and 29.4% T, 19.9% G and 19.8% C. The rule creates the basis of base pairs in the DNA double helix: always A pairs with T, and G pairs with C. He verified that the number of purines (A+G) always approximates the number of pyrimidines (T+C), an obvious consequence of the base-pairing nature of the DNA double helix. 

He experimented with the newly developed paper chromatography and ultraviolet spectrophotometer. In 1952, Chargaff met Francis Crick and James D Watson at Cambridge. Though not getting along with them personally, he explained his discoveries. Chargaff’s research helped the Watson and Crick laboratory team deduce the double-helical DNA structure at a later stage.

In 1947, the biochemist presented that the composition of DNA, in terms of the relative amounts of the adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine bases, varied from species to species. This molecular variety gave evidence that DNA could be the genetic material. 

Later Life

During 1950, Chargaff spoke against molecular biology’s failure, expressing that riots of that time could never be justified. He believed that human nature could never understand the complexity of nature.

He was scared that genetic engineering technology got a more significant threat to the world than the advent of nuclear technology.

Personal Life of Erwin Chargaff

Chargaff was married to Vera Broido in 1928. They met each other at the Vienna College of Technology. He served as the Milton Campbell Research Fellow about organic chemistry at Yale University between 1925 -1930

Old but brilliant Biologist Erwin Chargaff
Old but brilliant Biologist Erwin Chargaff

He returned to Europe as he didn’t like New Haven, Connecticut. In Europe, he served initially as the assistant in charge of chemistry in the bacteriology and public health department at the University of Berlin. 

After serving at the University of Berlin for three years, he had to resign as the controversy against Nazi policies against Jews in Germany. Then he joined the Pasteur Institute in Paris as a research for a year till 1934.


Erwin Chargaff wrote more than fifteen books. His most famous book is Heraclitean Fire; Sketches from a life before nature. This book comprises his life and works in Vienna and America. A highlight of his research in DNA and other works and opinions showed his reputation as an individualist.

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The fever of Reason, Voices in the Labyrinth: Nature, Man, and Science follows next to be his best books. He wrote several essays and about Nucleic Acids available in ebooks.

Awards and Honours

Chargaff got an honor award, the Pasteur Medal in 1949 and the National Medal of Science in 1974. Chargaff didn’t receive Kornberg’s Nobel Prize, but unfortunately, Chargaff’s DNA work, just like Oswald Avery’s, was not recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee. 

American Biologist with multiple Awards
American Biologist with multiple Awards


The researcher of Chemical composition of DNA, Chargaff, died on June 20th, 2002, in Manhattan, New York City, United States. He was at the age of 96 when he died.

Erwin Chargaff Net Worth

Chargaff was the best biologist whose DNA contribution is significant in two rules as Chargaff’s rules.

The famous scientist’s net worth of 2020 was estimated at $1 – 5 million. However, other information about his cards, monthly salary, etc. is under review.

Erwin Chargaff Quotes

  • If Herostratos has earned immortality for having burned down the temple of Artemis in Ephesos, maybe the man from whom he got the matches ought not to be entirely forgotten.
  • We manipulate nature as if we were stuffing an Alsatian goose. We create new forms of energy, we make new elements, we kill crops, we wash brains. I can hear them in the dark sharpening their lasers.
  • You can stop splitting the atom, you can stop visiting the moon, you can stop using aerosols, you may even decide not to kill entire populations by using a few bombs. But you cannot recall a new form of life.
  • Outside his ever-narrowing field of specialization, a scientist is a layman. What members of an academy of science have in common is a particular form of semiparasitic living.
  •  One of the most insidious and nefarious properties of scientific models is their tendency to take over and sometimes supplant reality.
  • When the so-called think tanks began to replace human beings’ thought processes, I called them the aseptic tanks.


  1. What was Erwin Chargaff known for? 

The first and best-known achievement was to show that the number of guanine units equals the number of cytosine units in natural DNA.

2. When did Erwin Chargaff contribution to DNA?

In 1949, Chargaff discovered that the proportions of DNA bases depend on the species the DNA comes from.

3. What was the Chargaff experiment?

To test the idea that DNA might be a primary constituent of the gene, Chargaff performed a series of experiments. He fractionated out nuclei from cells. He then isolated the DNA from the nuclei and broke it down into its constituent nucleic acids.

4. What did Erwin Chargaff conclude from his experiments?

Eventually, Chargaff concluded that in a single molecule of DNA, Guanine/Cytosine = Adenine/Thymine = 1. This concept would later become known as Chargaff’s Rules.

5. Who did Erwin Chargaff work with?

Erwin Chargaff, whose research into the chemical composition of DNA helped lay the groundwork for James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of its double-helix structure.

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