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Long Live Italian Nobelists!

Renato Dulbecco Renato Dulbecco

The Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, will host a seminar/celebration, open to the public, tomorrow, February 20, to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco.  A list of distinguished Italian and Italian-American biologists including Robert Gallo, now at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and our own Stefano Bertuzzi, ASCB's Executive Director (ED), will be there to discuss the significance of Dulbecco's long and passionate life in science.

Along with Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini, Dulbecco was one of a trio of extraordinary Italian researchers who were all mentored at the University of Turin medical school in the mid-1930s by neurobiologist Giuseppe Levi. All three won Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine for their work in the U.S.—Luria in 1969, Levi-Montalcini in 1986, and Dulbecco in 1975. Dulbecco's contributions to cancer research cannot be understated. A basic cell biologist at heart, he studied cell transformation, opening the field to the possibility of viral DNA as one of the causes of cancer. He was also an early proponent of what became the Human Genome Project.

The anniversary of Dulbecco's death, two days short of his 98th birthday on February 19 last year, comes only eight weeks after Levi-Montalcini's on December 30 at age 103. They all lived through difficult times. Dulbecco was drafted into the Italian army as a doctor, badly injured on the Russian front, and, sent home to recuperate, deserted to join Resistance forces in the north of Italy. As Jews, Levi, Luria, and Levi-Montalcini were all subject to Mussolini's racial laws. Banned from the university, Levi-Montalcini transferred her research to her bedroom and later moved continually to avoid arrest. Luria, who'd gone into exile in France, escaped the German blitzkrieg in 1940 by riding a bicycle from Paris to Marseilles. Luria died in 1991 at the young age of 78. Their mentor, Giuseppe Levi, who pioneered in vitro cell culture, survived the war by going into hiding and lived to 1965, aged 92. All four lives testify to the resilience of science and scientists.  Next week, our ED will devote his blog, "Activation Energy," to Dulbecco's scientific and policy contributions.

Created on Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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