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Salvador Luria was one of the founders of microbiology, as we know it. He emigrated from here from his native country of Italy in 1940. His work in the United States is his best known. His work on bacteriophage (bacterial virus) here brought up many new topics in bacteriology, biochemistry, and virology.
Born in 1912 in Turin, Italy Salvador Luria was born to David Luria and Ester Sacerdote. His father was a well-respected Jewish leader in his hometown. Salvador attended Liceo d’Azeglio high school. This was one of Northern Italy’s most highly recognized schools. After he finished high school he enrolled in medical school at the University of Turin. In medical school he studied with nerve tissue expert Giuseppe Levi. He met Ugo Fano who later taught him calculus and physics in an after school class using astronomy as a base.
The influence that Fano had on Salvador was so great that he decided to pursue basic sciences. He decided to go with Radiology, he believed this was the gap between physics and medicine. He received his medical degree in 1935. Although he had received his degree he was not happy. He believed Radiology was the most boring part of the medical world.
Salvador was drafted into the Italian Army as a medic. This proved he was not made for a medical career. He was discharged in 1937 and moved to Rome. In Rome he study at the Physics Institute of the University of Rome. He was shown the writings of Max Delbruck, who had boldly stated a gene, was a molecule. Salvador later said that Max’s writings were the “Holy Grail of biophysics.”
While living in an old broken down trolley car in the streets of Rome Salvador started a conversation with a microbiologist by the name of Geo Rita. Geo introduced him to bacteriophage, Salvador believed he could prove Max’s theory. He fled Europe in 1940 when the Nazi war machine was an approaching. He acquired an American visa and came to the United States.
Once he arrived in the United States he got a position at Columbia University. He got a hold of Delbruck and Delbruck agreed to help him in his experiments. They spent the summer of ’41 in Columbia University’s Biological Laboratory. Here Salvador rejoined his old friend Ugo Fano. In 1942-1943 he continued his bacteriophage studies. He was trying to prove the process or processes that caused bacteria mutation.
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About the same time Salvador met up with Alfred Hershey. Hershey, Luria and Delbruck started the American Phage Group. The group agreed only to study certain strains of bacteriophage.
In 1950, after most of his research on bacteriophage was complete he took the opportunity to teach at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (www.galenet.com/serlet/SCR, pg. 1-4) At the end of 1950 he began teaching microbiology at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (Science Biographies, pg. 182). In 1964 Salvador was labeled Sedgwick Professor of Biology at the institute. In 1969 Luria, Hershey, and Delbruck shared the greatest honor, the Nobel Prize. The received the award for Physiology and Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.”
Luria received many honors; some in the form of awards others in the rise in viral science. He won the Lenghi Prize of the National Academy of Science of Italy and the Louisa Gross Hurwitz Prize of Columbia University both in 1965. He wrote a book for the general science audience and received a National Book Award for Sciences in 1974. On February the 6th 1991 Salvador died of a severe heart attack, in his Lexington, Massachusetts home (www.galenet.com/serlet/SCR, pg. 4-5).
Salvador Lure was a great help to the scientific world. Although he wasn’t well known he helped in mapping the genetics of some bacteriophage and helped prove the theory of spontaneous mutation in bacteria. He was truly a great man and should be more respected for it.
“Salvador Luria”(online) www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC, 1/2/02
Science Biographies, “Slavador Edward Luria” pg. 181-182