Kurt Benirschke was born in 1924 and was raised in a small town in Northern Germany and received his M.D. degree from the University of Hamburg, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1949.
After an internship at the Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., he received his training in pathology at various university hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School. In 1955, he became pathologist of the Boston Lying-in Hospital and there developed his interest in the placenta and reproductive problems.
From 1960 to 1970 he was the chairman of the department of pathology at Dartmouth Medical School, in Hanover, NH and pursued the interest in placental pathology and comparative reproductive pathology. He there developed a passion for comparative cytogenetics, the quest for understanding the reason for the sterility of mules was explored and twinning in armadillos and marmoset monkeys was pursued. This led to a longstanding love affair with South America, especially Paraguay.
In 1970, the family moved to San Diego to participate in the development of a new medical school campus of the University of California. He there established a genetics laboratory, ran the autopsy service, was chairman of the department of pathology for two years and, in 1976, he persuaded the Board of Trustees of the Zoological Society of San Diego to establish a formal research department, called CRES. He led this research group until 1987 when he became a member of the zoo's Board.
He formally retired in 1994 but continues to be as active as before. From 1997-2000 he was president of the zoo's Board of Trustees and looked after the "Proyecto Tagua" in Paraguay, a breeding facility of the newly discovered species of peccary. His text (with Peter Kaufmann) on Human Placental Pathology is widely used and in its fourth edition.
is a member of many societies, including the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences and authored 26 books and 490 scientific publications. He
met his wife, a nurse, during his internship and has three children.