Joshua Lederberg


Joshua Lederberg

Joshua Lederberg was born in Montclair, N.J. on May 23, 1925. He was brought up in the Washington Heights District of Upper Manhattan, New York City, where he received his education in Public School 46, Junior High School 164 and Stuyvesant High School. From 1941 to 1944 he studied at Columbia College, where he obtained his B.A. with honours in Zoology (premedical course), and from 1944 to 1946 at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Medical School. Here he carried out part-time research with Professor F.J. Ryan in the Department of Zoology. Subsequently he went to the Department of Microbiology and Botany at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., as Research Fellow of the Jane Coffin Childs Fund for Medical Research and, during 1946-1947, as a graduate student with Professor E.L. Tatum. He was awarded his Ph.D. degree in 1948.

In 1947, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 1950 and Professor in 1954. He organized the Department of Medical Genetics in 1957, of which he was Chairman during 1957-1958.

Stanford University Medical School entrusted to him the organization of its Department of Genetics and appointed him Professor and Executive Head in 1959. Since 1962, he has been Director of the Kennedy Laboratories for Molecular Medicine.

Lederberg was Visiting Professor of Bacteriology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1950; and Fulbright Visiting Professor of Bacteriology at Melbourne University, Australia, in 1957. In the latter year, he was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

While at Yale, Lederberg married Esther M. Zimmer in 1946. They have no children. Mrs. Lederberg had obtained her M.A. at Stanford with Professor G.W. Beadle during 1944-1946, and her Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1950. She is working full time as research associate.

From Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1964

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1958

Addendum, December 1997

Joshua Lederberg was born in Montclair NJ, near New York, the son of Rabbi Zwi H. and Esther Lederberg, recently emigrated from Israel, on May 23 1925. He was educated in New York. After a period of study at Columbia P&S medical school, where he began his life-long research in molecular biology, he received his Ph.D. in microbiology at Yale. Then he served as professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin, then at Stanford School of Medicine, before coming to the Rockefeller in 1978. His life long research, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1958 (at the age of 33), has been in genetic structure and function in microorganisms. He has been actively involved in artificial intelligence research (in computer science) and in the NASA experimental programs seeking life on Mars. He has also been a consultant on health-related matters for government and the international community, e.g. having had long service on WHO’s Advisory Health Research Council. He received the US National Medal of Science in 1989, where his consultative role was specifically cited. He has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1957, and a charter member of its Institute of Medicine, has served as Chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel, and of the Congress’ Technology Assessment Advisory Council, as well as on numerous other consultative panels.

From 1978 to 1990, he served as president of the Rockefeller University. He continues his research activities there in the field of interactions of gene functionality and mutagenesis in bacteria. His current station there is Sackler Foundation scholar and professor-emeritus of molecular genetics and informatics.

His wife Marguerite Stein Lederberg was born in Paris, was educated as a physician in the U.S. and now serves as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. They have two children, David Kirsch and Anne Lederberg.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1997

Addendum, June 2005

Please consult for extensive archival and biographical detail. The focus of my research has shifted to “What is the fastest rate possible for the growth of a bacterial cell, (and why?)”.

Joshua Lederberg died on February 2, 2008.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2005

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