Günther Sterba

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Günther Sterba

Günther Hans Wenzel Sterba (born May 20, 1922 in Brüx , Czechoslovakia ) is a German zoologist and ichthyologist . Several species of fish, for example the armored catfish Corydoras sterbai , were named after Sterba .


Günther Sterba is the son of mining engineers Adolf Sterba and Melitta Sterba (nee Baudis). Through the maternal line there is an extensive relationship with the zoologist Karl von Frisch .

In Most he attended high school, which he graduated from high school. From 1943 to 1945 he did his military service. In September 1944 he was wounded and was in various hospitals until the end of the war. During the hospital time he registered for the disabled distance learning course for human medicine in Prague and enrolled at the University of Jena in the late summer of 1945 . On April 27, 1947, he took the physics there and then took seven clinical semesters. On the advice of zoologist Jürgen Wilhelm Harms , Günther Sterba expanded his matriculation from 1947 to include an additional second degree in biology with a specialization in zoology . On April 14, 1949 he received his doctorate as Dr. rer. nat. with “summa cum laude”. Under the care of his doctoral supervisor JW Harms, he wrote his dissertation on the subject: On the morphological and histogenetic thymus problems in Xenopus laevis Daudin, along with some remarks on the morphology of the tadpoles .

Sterba's first marriage to Renate Kosak and her second marriage to Hede Rössler. He has five children.

In 1946 Sterba registered as a member of the SPD party group there in Weimar , not knowing that it was planned to merge with the KPD to form the Socialist Unity Party (SED) . In 1953 Sterba left the SED and has been non-party ever since.

In the 1980s, Sterba, who was always interested in art and originally wanted to become a sculptor, began collecting plates from a service with botanical motifs from the earlier property of Joséphine de Beauharnais . In 2019 he donated 36 dessert plates from his collection to the Grassi Museum in Leipzig.

Academic career

In 1949 Sterba became a scientific assistant at the Zoological Institute at the University of Jena and in 1951 a lecturer in zoology. On May 20, 1952, he completed his habilitation with the thesis The Physiology and Histogenesis of the Thyroid and Thymus in the Brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri Bloch) as the basis of phylogenetic studies on the evolution of the internal secretory gill intestinal derivatives. to the Dr. rer. nat.habil. and shortly thereafter was appointed university lecturer in zoology. In 1958 he was appointed professor with a teaching position for zoology at the University of Jena.

From 1957 to 1961 there were appointment discussions with the universities in Halle (Saale) , Tharandt and Leipzig . There were also inquiries from Marburg and Heidelberg . Sterba would have gladly accepted the appointment to Heidelberg, which was mainly sponsored by Franz Duspiva , but the negotiations dragged on until the building of the wall and then had to be broken off, since one could no longer accept appointments as professor in the FRG.

In 1959 Sterba was appointed to Leipzig as a professor with a full teaching assignment . The establishment of a center for electron microscopy and biochemical capacities requested in the negotiations was confirmed. On April 9, 1959, he was appointed director of the Zoological Institute of the Karl Marx University in Leipzig and two years later he was appointed professor with a chair in zoology. In 1968, after the establishment of the Biosciences Section, he was appointed head of the Cell Biology and Regulation Division of the Section, and in 1969 he was appointed full professor for General Zoology and Animal Physiology. He retired on July 1, 1987 .


Despite numerous overlaps and exceptions, the approximately 200 scientific publications can be assigned to the following subject areas:

  1. Genesis and structure of incretory organs in lower vertebrates.
  2. Comparative neuroendocrinology in vertebrates.
  3. Circumventricular organs and cerebrospinal fluid in vertebrates.

While the publications of the first topic only deal with own results from the qualification period in Jena, the publications of the topics two and three come mainly from the time in Leipzig. Many of them are collaborative work, for example with Gerald Wolf , Arnim Ermisch, Hans Luppa, Wilfried Naumann and Georg Hoheisel.

Genesis and structure of incretory organs in lower vertebrates

While studying, a folded colored wall chart was created on the cerebrospinal and autonomic innervation of humans (Gustav Fischer Verlag Jena, 1948) . In addition to the aforementioned dissertation and post-doctoral thesis, 18 other publications come from the time in Jena. Most affect organs of internal secretion in lower vertebrates. During this time, Sterba also published on the endomitosis of the parthenogenetically developing summer eggs of the Daphnia , other cytological problems and the development of a previously unknown double animal species (Diplozoon). The two extensive monographs for the Handbook of Inland Fisheries in Central Europe "The Loach-like (Cobitidae)" and "The Lampreys (Petromyzonidae)" were probably created in Jena. Both monographs appeared in Volume III of the handbook on pp. 201–234 and 265–352; Editor E. Schweizerbart'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1962. An English edition of the lampreys monograph appeared in 1965 in the USA and Canada. In 1957 a paper was published which accompanied the development of a device for experiments on living histological tissue sections. The project funded by Zeiss was technically realized and patented by Rolf Köber, but never went into production due to the emerging cryo-microtomy.

Comparative neuroendocrinology in vertebrates

All investigations on this topic were initiated by the introduction of the pseudoisocyanine reaction into fluorescence microscopy by Sterba. In contrast to older staining methods, the much more sensitive technology ensured the detection of the smallest traces of the carrier protein of the posterior pituitary hormones vasopressin and oxytocin . This model made it possible to prove that the hormone-producing nerve cells not only transport the hormones in their extensions to the neurohypophysis, the place where hormones are released into the bloodstream, but are also connected to numerous other areas by hormone-transporting extensions. By including immunological techniques, light and electron microscopic, it was finally possible to establish for the first time that the end formations of these processes form synaptic contacts with normal nerve cells. The peptidergic synapse of many neuropeptides is now an integral, if not always understood, structure for many neuronal processes.

Important publications on this topic are
  • with F. Schober: Topography and cytology of neurosecretory systems. Part 1: The classic neurosecretory system of the rat. Atlas. VEB Gustav Fischer Verlag Jena, 1979.
  • Ascending Neurosecretory Pathways of the Peptidergic Type. In: Neurosecretion The Pinal Neuroendocrine Pathway (Eds. Knowles, F. And Vollrath, L.) 38 - 47.Springer Verlag, Berlin - Heidelberg - New York, 1974.
  • with W. Naumann W .: Ultrastructural Studies on Neurophysine- containing Vesicles: Cell.Tiss.Res. 165: 545-553 (1976).
  • with G. Hoheisel, R. Wegelin, W. Naumann, F. Schober: Peptide containing Vesicles within Neuro - neuronal Synapses. Brain Research 169: 55-64 (1979).
  • with W. Naumann, G. Hoheisel: Exohypothalamic Axons of the Classic Neurosecretory System : Progr. Brain Research 53, 141-158 (1980).

Circumventricular organs and cerebrospinal fluid in vertebrates

Among the organs in the walls of the cerebral ventricles of vertebrates, the subcommissural organ (SCO) dominates, the secretion of which is released into the third ventricle, where it is whirled together into a thread by cilia. The structure known as Reissner's thread pushes itself continuously in the central canal of the spinal cord up to its end ampulla, in the vicinity of which it is finally broken down. Sterba and his team were able to prove that the thread participates in the removal of ependymal cell debris , determines the speed of thread movement in the central canal in rats, observes the physiological consequences after experimentally switching off the thread transport by relocating the central canal and extracting the from 18 km of isolated thread material Collect numerous immunological and biochemical factors. “Despite all the partial results, however, it was not possible to find satisfactory evidence of the thread function. However, since the SCO thread system is the oldest brain structure at all, occurs in all vertebrates, is embryonic in humans, but is reduced again with the partial closure of the central canal, it is reasonable to assume that the system has a fundamental function. When discussing dementia problems, it should occasionally be reminded that cell detritus also accumulates in the ventricular fluid of the human brain ”.

Important publications on this topic are
  • (Ed.): Circumventricular organs and liquor. Report on the International Symposium in Reinhardsbrunn Castle from May 13th to 16th, 1968 . VEB Gustav Fischer Verlag, Jena 1969.
  • with W. Bargmann (Ed.): Circumventriculare Organe. Nova Acta Leopoldina, Suppl. 9, 1977.
  • with W. Naumann, W .: Electron-optical studies on Reissner's thread and the ependymal cells in the spinal cord of Lampetra planeri (Bloch). Z. cell research. 72: 516-524 (1966).
  • with A. Ermisch, A. Mueller, J. Hess: Autoradiographic investigations on the subcommissural organ and the Reissner thread. I. Organ secretion and parameters of organ performance as the basis for assessing organ function. Acta Zool . 52, 1-21 (1971).
  • with J. Hess: Studies concerning the function of the complex subcommissural organ - liquor fiber to pyrocatechin derivatives and its functional aspects. Brain Research 58: 303-312 (1973).
  • with Chr. Kießig, W. Naumann, H. Petter, I. Kleim: The secretion of the subcommissural organ. A comparative immunocytochemical investigation. Cell Tissue Res. 226, 427-439 (1982)

Aquaristics and ichthyology

The fish and aquarium books often associated with the name Sterba are exclusively the result of a hobby that began in childhood and matured over the years to specialist ichthyological knowledge. The numerous German reprints and new editions, the foreign language licenses in the USA (MIT), Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic caused the distribution of around 1.5 million copies. In the fourth edition of the title “Freshwater Fish of the World”, co-authors Axel Zarske, Klaus Breitfeld and Helmut Sander are involved. On the title “Lexicon of Aquaristics and Ichthyology G. Brückner, H.-J. Franke, U. Jakob, J. Kormann, H. Mühlberg and W. Naumann collaborated as authors. For the chapter on aquatic plants of the 2nd volume of aquarium science, Sterba was able to win over A. Wendt and, after his death, H. Mühlberg.


In addition to the fish books, there are a few other, non-scientific, book publications in German and English, for example: Family Olividae (Gastropoda) and Meissen Porcelain . Sterba was invited several times to longer stays abroad with the request to give lectures or lectures. Such invitations were made to Great Britain, Chile, Japan, Sweden, USSR, Finland and Italy. His wife was almost always invited, but only for the USSR and Italy did she get permission to accompany him.


  • 1949 Award of the dissertation with the research award of the University of Jena.
  • 1967 election as a full member of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin . There for 2 years secretary of the life sciences class, a position that Sterba resigned in 1971 due to differences with the presidium.
  • 1970 election to the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina . 2 terms (10 years) as an adjunct for Saxony member of the Senate of the Academy.
  • 1971 Doctorate from the University of Utrecht .
  • 1982 elected foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences ; first member elected from the GDR. The government of the GDR was informed of the election at the diplomatic level, but only granted approval to accept membership after 9 months.
  • 1979 Invitation of the Japanese Crown Prince Akihito , today's Tenno, to a private audience in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo during a three-month stay in Japan.
  • Vice-President for life of the Federation of British Aquatic Societies .
  • Honorary Senator of the University of Leipzig.
  • Honorary member of various societies, u. a. the former Biological Society of the GDR, whose members elected Sterba three times as their president in a secret ballot for two years each.


  • Peter Nötzold:  Sterba, Günther . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 2. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 .
  • Saxon Academy of Sciences Leipzig, 44, 5-54, 1950
  • Knowledge Journal of the University of Jena 3, Math.Nat.Reihe 239-298 (1953)
  • Surviving histological tissue sections: Experientia 13, p. 335

Individual evidence

  1. (Saxon Academy of Sciences Leipzig, 44, 5-54, 1950)
  2. The service of the empress: collector and zoologist presents Leipzig Grassimuseum. Retrieved August 8, 2020 .
  3. Wiss.Zeitschr.der Univ.Jena 3, Math.Nat.Reihe 239-298 (1953).
  4. Sterba: Surviving histological tissue sections Experientia, Volume 13, issue 8 (August 1957), pp. 335-336; ISSN  0014-4754 doi : 10.1007 / BF02296832 , Birkhäuser-Verlag, Basel
  5. Sterba, G .; About a new method of detecting neurosecretion; Acta biol..med..germ. 7; 218-231, 1961;
  6. quoted from Sterba
  7. Sterba, greatly abbreviated from a lecture
  8. Member entry of Günther Sterba (with picture) at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on July 22, 2016.