Renato Dulbecco Biography


Birthday: February 22, 1914 (Pisces)

Born In: Italy

Renato Dulbecco was an Italian American virologist who won a share of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1975. A medical researcher, he performed significant work on oncoviruses, the viruses that can cause cancer when they infect animal cells. A good student from a young age, he was deeply influenced by an uncle who was a respected physician. Motivated by him, Dulbecco decided to study medicine at the University of Turin and graduated in morbid anatomy and pathology under the supervision of Professor Giuseppe Levi. He served in the Italian army in World War II, but later joined the resistance. After the war, he moved to the United States and began his research on viruses. After working with Salvador Luria on bacteriophages, he moved to Caltech on the invitation of Max Delbrück and joined his group. It was here that he began his seminal work on animal oncoviruses, especially of polyoma family. Over the course of his career, he collaborated with several other brilliant scientists including his student Howard Temin and the cancer biologist and virologist Marguerite Vogt. While working at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute), he was a part of the team that launched the Human Genome Project.
Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In February

Died At Age: 97

Born Country: Italy

Virologists American Men

Died on: February 19, 2012

More Facts

awards: 1975 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1964 - Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
1973 - Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize

1957 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences
US & Canada
1967 - Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize
1974 - Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology

Childhood & Early Life
Renato Dulbecco was born on February 22, 1914, in Catanzaro, Italy, to a Calabrese mother, Maria, and a Ligurian father, Leonardo. His father, a civil engineer, was called to serve in the army during the World War I.
He grew up in Liguria, in the coastal city Imperia, where he spent a lot of his leisure time at a small meteorological observatory. Visits to the observatory kindled his interest in physics.
A brilliant student, he graduated from high school in 1930, at the age of just 16. Even though he was really skilled at mathematics and physics, he decided to study medicine. His decision was strongly influenced by the respect he had for his uncle who was a doctor.
He joined the University of Turin where he studied morbid anatomy and pathology under the supervision of Professor Giuseppe Levi. He graduated with an MD in 1936. During his years at Turin he met Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini with whom he formed long term friendships.
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Soon after the completion of his degree he was called up for military service as a medical officer in 1936 and discharged in 1938. Italy entered the World War II in 1940 and he was once again called up for military duty. Following the collapse of Fascism he joined the resistance against the German occupation.
He resumed his work at Levi's laboratory after the war but soon left for the United States on the invitation of Salvador Luria who was already working there. After working with Luria on bacteriophages for a while, he was invited by Max Delbrück to join the Caltech in 1949.
In the late 1950s Dulbecco took a student Howard Temin, who together with a postdoctoral fellow Harry Rubin, displayed a keen interest in working on the Rous Sarcoma Virus. Their work in the tumor virus fields interested Dulbecco and he too began working on an oncogenic virus, polyoma virus.
In 1962, he moved from Caltech to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and in 1972 to The Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now named the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute). He returned to Salk in 1977 and served as its president from 1988 to 1992.
He moved back to Italy in 1993 and served as president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at C.N.R. (National Council of Research) in Milan until 1997. He also retained his position on the faculty of Salk.
Major Works
Dulbecco was a part of the group which made key discoveries on the functioning of oncoviruses—the viruses that can cause cancer when they infect animal cells. In collaboration with Marguerite Vogt he showed that polyomavirus, which produces tumors in mice, inserts its DNA into the DNA of the host cell following which the host cell undergoes transformation into a cancer cell.
He performed significant research on breast cancer and discovered a pioneering technique for identifying cancer cells by their genetic signature. He was actively involved in the investigations of the mammary gland cancer stem cells up to until a few months before his death.
Awards & Achievements
The Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research was awarded to Dulbecco and Rubin in 1964.
Dulbecco, along with Harry Eagle and Theodore T. Puck was given the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry in 1973.
Renato Dulbecco, David Baltimore and Howard Martin Temin were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1975 "for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell."
Personal Life & Legacy
Renato Dulbecco was married twice. His first marriage to Giuseppina Salvo, which produced a son and a daughter, ended in divorce.
His second marriage to Maureen Rutherford Muir was a happy one. The couple had one daughter.
He lived a long life and was active in research even when he was well into his nineties. He died on February 19, 2012, three days before his 98th birthday.

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