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Joshua Lederberg
Joshua Lederberg-nih.jpg
Lederberg in New Delhi, India
Born (1925-05-23)May 23, 1925
Montclair, New Jersey
Died February 2, 2008(2008-02-02) (aged 82)
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Nationality American
Fields Microbiologist
Alma mater Stuyvesant High School
Columbia University
Yale University
Known for Neurospora crassa
Bacterial conjugation
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1958)
National Medal of Science (1989)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2006)
Spouse Esther Miriam Zimmer (1946-1966; divorced)
Marguerite Stein Kirsch (1968-2008; 1 child, 1 stepchild)

Joshua Lederberg, ForMemRS[1] (May 23, 1925 – February 2, 2008)[2] was an American molecular biologist known for his work in microbial genetics, artificial intelligence, and the United States space program. He was just 33 years old when he won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that bacteria can mate and exchange genes.[3] He shared the prize with Edward L. Tatum and George Beadle who won for their work with genetics.

In addition to his contributions to biology, Lederberg did extensive research in artificial intelligence. This included work in the NASA experimental programs seeking life on Mars and the chemistry expert system Dendral.

Early life and education[edit]

Lederberg was born in Montclair, New Jersey, to a Jewish family, son of Esther Goldenbaum Schulman Lederberg and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Lederberg, in 1925, and moved to Washington Heights, Manhattan as an infant.[4] He had two younger brothers. Lederberg graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City at the age of 15 in 1941.[5] After graduation, he was allowed lab space as part of the American Institute Science Laboratory, a forerunner of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He enrolled in Columbia University in 1941, majoring in zoology. Under the mentorship of Francis J. Ryan, he conducted biochemical and genetic studies on the bread mold Neurospora crassa. Intending to receive his MD and fulfill his military service obligations, Lederberg worked as a hospital corpsman during 1943 in the clinical pathology laboratory at St. Albans Naval Hospital, where he examined sailors' blood and stool samples for malaria. He went on to receive his undergraduate degree in 1944.

Bacterial genetics[edit]

Joshua Lederberg began medical studies at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons while continuing to perform experiments. Inspired by Oswald Avery's discovery of the importance of DNA, Lederberg began to investigate his hypothesis that, contrary to prevailing opinion, bacteria did not simply pass down exact copies of genetic information, making all cells in a lineage essentially clones. After making little progress at Columbia, Lederberg wrote to Edward Tatum, his post-doctoral mentor, proposing a collaboration. In 1946 and 1947, Lederberg took a leave of absence to study under the mentorship of Tatum at Yale University. Lederberg and Tatum showed that the bacterium Escherichia coli entered a sexual phase during which it could share genetic information through bacterial conjugation.[6][7] With this discovery and some mapping of the E. coli chromosome, Lederberg was able to receive his Ph. D. from Yale University in 1947. Joshua married Esther Miriam Zimmer (herself a student of Ed Tatum) on December 13, 1946.

Instead of returning to Columbia to finish his medical degree, Lederberg chose to accept an offer of an assistant professorship in genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His wife Esther Lederberg went with him to Wisconsin. She received her doctorate there in 1950.

Joshua Lederberg and Norton Zinder showed in 1951 that genetic material could be transferred from one strain of the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium to another using viral material as an intermediary step.[8] This process is called transduction. In 1956, M. Laurance Morse, Esther Lederberg and Joshua Lederberg also discovered specialized transduction.[9][10] The research in specialized transduction focused upon lambda phage infection of E. coli. Transduction and specialized transduction explained how bacteria of different species could gain resistance to the same antibiotic very quickly.

During her time in Joshua Lederberg's laboratory, Esther Lederberg also discovered fertility factor F, later publishing with Joshua Lederberg and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. In 1956, the Society of Illinois Bacteriologists simultaneously awarded Joshua Lederberg and Esther Lederberg the Pasteur Medal, for "their outstanding contributions to the fields of microbiology and genetics".

In 1957, Joshua Lederberg founded the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Post Nobel Prize research[edit]

Lederberg (right) receiving The National Medal of Science from George H. W. Bush.

In 1958, Joshua Lederberg received the Nobel Prize and moved to Stanford University where he was the founder and chairman of the Department of Genetics. He collaborated with Frank Macfarlane Burnet to study viral antibodies. With the launching of Sputnik in 1957, Lederberg became concerned about the biological impact of space exploration. In a letter to the National Academies of Sciences, he outlined his concerns that extraterrestrial microbes might gain entry to Earth onboard spacecraft, causing catastrophic diseases. He also argued that, conversely, microbial contamination of manmade satellites and probes may obscure the search for extraterrestrial life. He advised quarantine for returning astronauts and equipment and sterilization of equipment prior to launch. Teaming up with Carl Sagan, his public advocacy for what he termed exobiology helped expand the role of biology in NASA.

In the 1960s, he collaborated with Edward Feigenbaum in Stanford's computer science department to develop DENDRAL.

In 1978, he became the president of Rockefeller University, until he stepped down in 1990 and became professor-emeritus of molecular genetics and informatics at Rockefeller University, considering his extensive research and publications in these disciplines.

Throughout his career, Lederberg was active as a scientific advisor to the U.S. government. Starting in 1950, he was a member of various panels of the Presidential Science Advisory Committee. In 1979, he became a member of the U.S. Defense Science Board and the chairman of President Jimmy Carter's President's Cancer Panel. In 1989, he received National Medal of Science for his contributions to the scientific world. In 1994, he headed the Department of Defense's Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, which investigated Gulf War Syndrome.

Awards and accolades[edit]

Impact crater Lederberg in Xanthe Terra on Mars


Lederberg married fellow scientist Esther Miriam Zimmer in 1946; they divorced in 1966. He married psychiatrist Marguerite Stein Kirsch in 1968. He was survived by Marguerite, their daughter, Anne Lederberg, and his stepson, David Kirsch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bodmer, W.; Ganesan, A. (2011). "Joshua Lederberg. 23 May 1925 -- 2 February 2008". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2010.0024.  edit
  2. ^ Joshua Lederberg, Rockefeller University's fifth president, dies at 82
  3. ^ Warwick, K. "The Joshua Lederberg Papers: Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine", Biography,Volume 24, Number 4, Fall 2001, pp. 978-982
  4. ^ Broad, William J. "Joshua Lederberg, 82, a Nobel Winner, Dies", The New York Times, February 5, 2008. Accessed April 22, 2008. "Dr. Lederberg was born May 23, 1941, in Montclair, N.J., to Zvi Hirsch Lederberg, a rabbi, and the former Esther Goldenbaum, who had emigrated from what is now Israel two years earlier. His family moved to the Washington Heights section of Manhattan when he was 6 months old."
  5. ^ "Joshua Lederberg - The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1958 - Biography". 1958. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  6. ^ Lederberg, J.; Tatum, E. L. (1946). "Gene Recombination in Escherichia Coli". Nature 158 (4016): 558. doi:10.1038/158558a0.  edit
  7. ^ Zinder, N. D.; Lederberg, J. (1952). "Genetic Exchange in Salmonella". Journal of bacteriology 64 (5): 679–699. PMC 169409. PMID 12999698.  edit
  8. ^ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/bv.fcgi?rid=iga.section.1363
  9. ^ Morse, M. L.; Lederberg, E. M.; Lederberg, J. (1956). "Transduction in Escherichia Coli K-12". Genetics 41 (1): 142–156. PMC 1209761. PMID 17247607.  edit
  10. ^ Morse, M. L.; Lederberg, E. M.; Lederberg, J. (1956). "Transductional Heterogenotes in Escherichia Coli". Genetics 41 (5): 758–779. PMC 1209815. PMID 17247661.  edit
  11. ^ "Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences Recipients". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved November 26, 2011. 
  12. ^ http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Feature/15016?__fsk=-1030460376

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Lederberg — Please support Wikipedia.
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72 videos foundNext > 

1999 Morris F. Collen Award: Joshua Lederberg

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A short video on Joshua Lederberg, winner of the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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209 news items


Stanford University News
Mon, 16 Mar 2015 13:15:00 -0700

Six decades ago, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg observed how bacteria could essentially go undercover in ways that might trick the human immune system. Now, using new techniques, Stanford bioengineers have created a time-lapse ...
Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:46:25 -0800

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences' Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan and by an anonymous donor in memory of Nobel Prize winner Joshua Lederberg. Other Co-authors include ...
Sun, 15 Mar 2015 22:42:54 -0700

According to Joshua Lederberg, "Being successful at a very young age gave me the confidence and the capability to try out other things. "A very young age? Lederberg entered the university at fifteen and was awarded the Nobel at thirty-three. Likewise ...

The New Yorker

The New Yorker
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:18:45 -0700

“The single biggest threat to man's continued dominance on this planet is the virus,” the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg once wrote. Few epidemiologists would disagree. There is no bomb, no poison, no plan of attack with the potential ...
New York Times
Mon, 04 Feb 2008 20:41:15 -0800

The National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md., has a sampling of his thousands of papers, letters and articles on a Web site, the Joshua Lederberg Papers at http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/BB/. His first marriage, to Esther Lederberg, ended in divorce ...


Tue, 24 Mar 2015 02:53:01 -0700

”Cercetarea microbiomului (n.r. termenul a fost elaborat de Joshua Lederberg, unul din titanii biologiei moleculare, şi desemnează totalitatea microbilor, a elementelor lor genetice şi a interacţiunilor acestora într-un mediu) reprezintă, la ora ...
Mon, 09 Mar 2015 11:22:30 -0700

El biólogo molecular Joshua Lederberg fue quien se encargó de acuñar el término y fue conocido por su trabajo en la genética microbiana, la inteligencia artificial y el programa espacial de los Estados Unidos, en donde colaboró en los experimentos de ...
Washington Post
Mon, 04 Feb 2008 00:00:00 -0800

Joshua Lederberg, 82, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in bacterial genetics who is known as one of the founders of molecular biology, a discipline that in the past half-century has begun unlocking the secrets of how organisms live and reproduce, died ...

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