- NAME: Renato Dulbecco
- OCCUPATION: Educator, Scientist
- BIRTH DATE: February 22, 1914
- DEATH DATE: February 19, 2012
- Did You Know?: As a child, Renato Dulbecco built a vacuum-tube radio so his mother could listen to opera.
- EDUCATION: University of Turin
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Catanzaro, Italy
- PLACE OF DEATH: La Jolla, California
Best Known For
Renato Dulbecco was an Italian-American virologist best known for winning the Nobel Prize for pioneering the growing of viruses in culture.
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Born in Italy in 1914, Renato Dulbecco was a virologist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine along with Howard M. Temin and David Baltimore. In the 1950s, the three men pioneered the growing of viruses in a culture, lending insight into cell growth. The research helped pave the way for studying cancer cells in the fight against cancer. Dulbecco died in 2012 in La Jolla, California.
"While we spend our life asking questions about the nature of cancer and ways to prevent or cure it, society merrily produces oncogenic substances and permeates the environment with them."
"If I can get a week off to work on the house, that's the best vacation I can get."
Renato Dulbecco was born on February 22, 1914, in Catanzaro, Italy. After World War I, his family moved to Imperia, a small resort town in northwest Italy. Young Renato thrived in this environment, spending time at the beach and at a small meteorological laboratory where he developed a strong liking for physics, putting this knowledge to good use building a small working seismograph. He also built a vacuum-tube radio so his mother could listen to opera.
Dulbecco graduated from high school at age 16 and enrolled in the University of Turin. Though he excelled in math and physics, he followed his passion and studied medicine, and often ranked at the top of his class. At Turin, he worked under the supervision of Giuseppe Levi and met Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini, both of whom would later have a great influence on him.
In 1936, Dulbecco obtained his medical degree and was later called up for military service in the Italian Army. He served as a medical officer in France and then subsequently was sent to the Russian Front, where he was injured and hospitalized for several months. When the Mussolini government collapsed, he joined the resistance as a physician against the German occupation. After the war, he returned to Levi's laboratory and worked with Rita Levi-Montalcini, who advised him to go to the United States. Salvador Luria was already there and also encouraged him to emigrate. Dulbecco left Italy in the summer of 1947.
Dulbecco joined Luria at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he discovered that enzymes can repair cells damaged by ultraviolet light exposure. This attracted the interest of Max Delbrück, a leading professor at the California Institute of Technology, who offered Dulbecco a job at Caltech. The budding scientist packed his young family into his old car and drove to California. Dulbecco was fascinated by the immensity of the United States and the kindness of its people. As he and his family made their way to Oregon and then down the coast to Pasadena, Dulbecco resolved never to live anywhere else in the world. He became an American citizen in 1953.
During the 1950s, Dulbecco worked with Marguerite Vogt on how polyomavirus, which produces tumors in mice, inserts its DNA into the DNA of a host cell. The cell then undergoes transformation (a term coined by Dulbecco) into a cancer cell, reproducing the viral DNA along with its own and creating more cancer cells. Dulbecco suggested that human cancers could be caused by a similar reproduction. This research provided some of the first clues to the genetic nature of cancer.
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