Joshua Lederberg: Nobel
Prize in Physiology or
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Joshua Lederberg is an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 1958, for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria. He shared this Nobel Prize with George Wells Beadle and Edward Lawrie Tatum for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events.
Lederberg was born on May23, 1925, in Montclair, New Jersey, to Esther Goldenbaum Schulman and Rabbi Zwi H. Lederberg. His father was orthodox and came from a family of rabbinical scholars. He graduated Thomas Jefferson High School, in 1940, when he was 15 years old. Lederberg’s father hoped that Joshua would pursue a religious calling, but, he was more interested in science.
He received a $400 scholarship at Columbia University to enroll as a zoology major, in 1941. When World War II started, he sought to get a medical degree and serve his obligation, Lederberg enrolled in the United States V-12 training program, in 1943. He was a hospital corpsman during his training period and this gave him an opportunity to do research.
When World War II ended, Lederberg returned to Columbia University and graduated with his B.A. with honors in Zoology, in 1944. He went to Yale University and received his Ph.D. degree, in 1948.
While at Yale, he married Esther M. Zimmer, in 1946. She received a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. In1966, they were divorced. In 1968, he married Marguerite Stein Kirsch and they had two children, David and Anne.
He was appointed Assistant Professor of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, in 1947. He became an Associate Professor in 1950 and was a Professor in 1954. He was the Chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics, in 1957-1958.
In 1959, he became the founder and chairman of the Department of Genetics, Stanford University, School of Medicine. In 1978, he became President of Rockefeller University, in New York City, a graduate university specializing in biomedical research. In 1979, He became an advisor to President Jimmy Carter on cancer as chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel. This was the same year that he became a trustee of the Sackler Medical School, Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
He has received many honors and recognitions:
• Elected to the National Academy of Science, 1957
• Founder of the department of Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, 1957-59
• Founder and chairman of the Department of Genetics, Stanford University, 1959-78
• President of Rockefeller University, 1978-1990
• Awarded the National medal of Science by President George H. W. Bush, 1989
• Professor emeritus and Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Scholar at Rockefeller University, 1990-present
Joshua Lederberg continued to be active with laboratory research on bacterial and human genetics and to advise government and industry on global health policy, biological warfare and the threat of bioterrorism. He died on February 2, 2008, in New York City.
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