International Association for Lichenology

Siegfried Huneck

Siegfried Huneck

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to introduce the next recipient of an Acharius Medal. As I was preparing this brief introduction, I was reminiscing on those lichenologists and lichen chemists who have most influenced my research life which began in the 1960s. The first were Yasuhiko Asahina and Shoji Shibata who published their seminal book on “The Chemistry of Lichen Substances” in 1952 and they were followed some 10 years later by the inimitable Mason E. Hale, whose “Lichen Handbook” sparked my interest in chemosystematics. In 1969 there appeared two extremely important contributions – there was Chicita Culberson’s book “Chemical and Botanical Guide to Lichen Products” and a chapter called “Lichen Substances” in Volume 1 of Progress in Phytochemistry by Siegfried Huneck. I was particularly inspired by the latter ‘s review of the then modern spectroscopic methods and how they could be utilised in the structural elucidation of these compounds.

Let me now turn to the career of one of these mentors, Siegfried Huneck. He was born on September 9, 1928 – and despite the tumult of the war years, and the even more difficult time immediately post-war, he managed to complete his PhD thesis on the chemistry of amino-derivatives of pentacyclic triterpenes at the University of Jena in 1957. As Huneck’s interest in the chemistry of natural products was not shared by this institute, he accepted a position at the Institute of Plant Chemistry in Tharandt in 1961, part of the University of Dresden.

During the following years he concentrated on his “Habilitation” which he completed in 1964. As a non-conformist he was unable to pursue an academic career, so he moved to the Institute for the Biochemistry of Plants (IBP) in Halle as a scientific assistant. Here he continued his wide-ranging research on the chemistry of natural compounds in lichens, and as well as in liverworts and higher plants. He was well supported by a number of foreign colleagues, and it was from Halle that many of his papers on the chemistry of lichen products originated.

Siegfried himself was a very generous colleague. My first contact with him was in October, 1970 when I wrote to ask if he could assist me by providing a sample of natural pannarin. The reply I received on October 26th read as follows:

“Dear Dr Elix
I thank you for your letter of October 11th. Please excuse my delay in answering, but unfortunately I had only a minute amount of pannarin in my collection, and so I had to collect further lichen material to isolate more pannarin. Enclosed I send you 200 mg of pannarin for your experiments, and I hope they will be successful. With best wishes, S. Huneck”.

He not only provided what I asked, but collected more lichen material, extracted and purified the pannarin, and forwarded it to me within 15 days! As I said, he is a generous friend.

Siegfried has ultimately been author, or coauthor, of nearly 350 publications, the majority of which concern the chemistry of lichen substances. These papers are noted for their accuracy and diversity. He is also the holder of 10 patents. A major treatise (together with Isao Yoshimura) on the Chemistry of Lichen Substance has just rolled off the presses and we look forward to this magnum opus with much anticipation. I hope it will inspire a new generation of lichen chemists.

Finally, I recall a particular compliment that was paid to me by an unsuspecting PhD student when Siegfried visited Canberra and the ANU in 1993 – following S.H. and myself down the corridor she muttered “My God, there is two of them!” To me this was the ultimate compliment, but perhaps a better lichenological analogy would be that of a lichen thallus (S.H.) and its isidium (J.A.E.).

My soul brother Siegfried, it is a great honour for me to be asked to introduce you at such an auspicious occasion. I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of an Acharius medal.

Jack Elix