Childhood & Early Life
He was born on May 8, 1902, in Ainay-le-Château, Allier, in Auvergne, France, to Solomon Lwoff and his wife Marie. His father was a psychiatrist and his mother an artist.
He attended the ‘University of Paris’ from where he completed his graduation with a Science degree and thereafter in 1921, he joined the ‘Pasteur Institute’ of France at 19. He met great French biologist Edouard Chatton at the institute who became his mentor and with time the two scientists remained associated for around seventeen years till the death of the latter in 1947.
Edouard Chatton helped him join the laboratory of Félix Mesnil in the ‘Pasteur Institute’. He first examined the parasitic ciliates and their development cycle and studied morphogenesis. He further investigated issues related to nutrition of protozoan. In 1927 he earned his M.D.
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He partnered with his wife (a French microbiologist and virologist), Marguerite Lwoff, née Bourdaleix, all through his career, although Marguerite could not garner much recognition for her contributions as her husband did. She was best known for her investigations on metabolism. Her research work began with a group of protozoans called ciliates and continued with other significant investigations including Apostomatida.
The Lwoff couple were given a laboratory at the ‘Pasteur Institute’ where the duo investigated on Haemophilus metabolism and eventually they discovered the function of cozymase.
In 1932 he earned his Ph.D and upon obtaining a grant from the ‘Rockefeller Foundation’, he relocated for a year to the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research’ in the city of Heidelberg in south-west Germany. He joined the laboratory of German physician and biochemist Otto Meyerhof and researched on haematin, a developmental factor of flagellates, the particularity of protohaematin and related subjects.
He obtained another grant from the ‘Rockefeller Foundation’ and went to the ‘University of Cambridge’ with his wife in 1937 and spent seven months there in the lab of David Keilin.
He was inducted as Head of Department at the ‘Pasteur Institute’ in 1938. He carried on significant research work while serving at the institute.
By the time Lwoff began his investigation related to the problem of lysogenic bacteria, many such research works were being conducted on the developmental aspects of flagellates and ciliates.
While examining isolated bacteria, he concluded that bacteriophages are not secreted by lysogenic bacteria. He found that the generation of bacteriophages leads to fatality of the bacterium. He also suggested that external factors must be inducing such generation.
He started research on poliovirus from 1954. He conducted investigations to study how temperature sensitivity of viral development is associated with neurovirulence and such study made him consider the viral infection problem. Gradually it became apparent that non-specific aspects play a significant role in the growth of primary infection. He then further investigated on the mechanics of particular deterrents of viral growth.
He became the Corresponding Member of the ‘Botanical Society of America’ in 1956.
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In 1958 he became the ‘Foreign Member of the Royal Society’ (ForMemRS), London as also the Honorary Foreign Member of the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’.
He served the ‘Sorbonne’ from 1959 to 1968 as Professor of Microbiology.
He remained one of the driving forces in the establishment of the ‘European Organization of Molecular Biology’ that was officially formed in July 1964.
For his services during the ‘Second World War’ he received the ‘Medal of the Resistance’ in 1964 and was made the commander of the ‘Légion d'Honneur’ in 1966.
He retired from the ‘Pasteur Institute’ in 1968 and thereafter served the ‘Cancer Research Institute’ at Villejuif, near Paris, as the Director till 1972.
He was an Honorary Member of the ‘Harvey Society’ (1954), the ‘New York Academy of Sciences’ (1955), the ‘American Society of Biological Chemists’ (1961) and the ‘Society for General Microbiology’ (1962).
He also remained member of several national and international societies and committees like the ‘International Committee for the Organization of Medical Sciences’, the ‘Société de Pathologie exotique’ and the ‘Société Zoologique de France’.
He served as President of the ‘Société des Microbiologistes de langue française’ and the ‘International Association of Microbiological Societies’.
He was conferred honorary degrees by several prestigious universities, which include a D.Sc. from the ‘University of Oxford’ as also from the ‘University of Chicago’, both in 1959; a Doctor of Laws from the ‘University of Glasgow’ in 1963; and an M.D. from the ‘Université catholique de Louvain’ in 1966.
Personal Life & Legacy
On December 5, 1925 he married French microbiologist and virologist Marguerite Bourdaleix. The couple worked closely at the ‘‘Pasteur Institute’ and remained close colleagues while working on the parasitical ciliates at the ‘Roscoff Marine Biological Station’ along with French biologist Édouard Chatton.
He was a humanist and strongly opposed capital punishment.
Lwoff was fond of music, painting and sculpture.
On September 30, 1994, he passed away in Paris at 92 years of age. He was the last surviving member of the trio who jointly received the ‘Nobel Prize’ in 1965.