Dr. rer. nat. Claus-Wilhelm "Willi" von der LiethFormer Group Leader
On November 16, 2007, Dr. Claus-Wilhelm (Willi) von der Lieth - the 'father' of GLYCOSCIENCES.de - passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58.
Willi was born in 1949 in Bremervörde, Germany. He studied chemistry at the Technical University of Hannover where he received his Diploma in 1977. He continued his studies in theoretical chemistry at the University of Heidelberg and received his doctoral degree in 1980. In the same year he joined the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ Heidelberg) where he became the head of the Molecular Modeling group within the Central Spectroscopy Department in 1987. At the DKFZ, he developed a computer-based spectroscopic information system and provided a wide variety of modeling services for many years. In the late 1980s Willi entered the carbohydrate field through the application of modeling methods to support conformational analysis of complex oligosaccharides by NMR. Being a visionary, Willi realized that the Internet offered an opportunity to provide, without barriers, scientific information and tools to a large community. This led in the 1990s to the first web-based molecular builder for carbohydrate 3D structures (SWEET), which is still used by scientists today. In the late 1990s Willi initiated the SWEET-DB project which aimed to use modern web techniques to make existing carbohydrate-related data collections available over the Internet, and to create an interface that allowed glycoscientists to find important data for compounds of interest in a compact and well-structured representation. The data sources of SWEET-DB were structures and literature references from the - at that time discontinued - Complex Carbohydrate Structure Database (CarbBank), NMR data taken from SugaBase, and 3D co-ordinates generated with SWEET-II. An automated link to the NCBI PubMed service was established which allowed scientists to find literature for a particular carbohydrate structure very easily. Over the years more services and tools were developed which ultimately led to the GLYCOSCIENCES.de web portal, which is currently one of the largest scientific resources for carbohydrate structure related data.
Willi was internationally recognized as a pioneer, and a global leader, in the field of glycoinformatics. In recent years Willi was very active in international efforts to integrate and crosslink existing carbohydrate databases based on the philosophy of open access. He was Coordinator of the EUROCarbDB project (an EU funded design study to create the foundations of databases and bioinformatics tools for glycobiology and glycomics), a co-director of HGPI/HUPO (the Human Disease Glycomics/Proteome Initiative), and a member of the US Consortium for Functional Glycomics.
Willi served as Treasurer of the German Chapter of the Molecular Graphics Society and as Referee for several journals, was a member of the Editorial Board of Carbohydrate Research, and contributed over 100 journal articles and book chapters in the fields of molecular modeling, computer-based information systems, and glycoscience.
Willi's sudden death was a great professional and personal loss for all those who had the privilege to work with him. Willi was an exceptional personality; his boundless enthusiasm, creativity, and active interest in so many research areas was contagious. His uncomplicated interactions with colleagues and students revealed his openness, modesty and generosity.