This past spring saw the passing of Renato Dulbecco (1913-2012) who was eulogized by David Baltimore in the March 30 issue of Science. Dulbecco was a pioneer in bacteriophage genetics, cell transformation by viral DNA, and was the earliest proponent of the human genome project. He developed the first method for quantifying viruses in a culture. He won the Nobel prize for demonstrating that viral DNA can be integrated into cellular DNA thus leading to the inescapable conclusion that genes cause cancer. A key enzyme discovered has come to be known as reverse transcriptase. Dulbecco remained active scientifically well into his 90′s.
There is great importance in scientists understanding the history of their field and the brilliant individuals whose keen intuition led to the framework of our understanding of how the world works. A simple way to make this connection is to recognize that many of the tools we use today are named after real people either because they were the first to develop the tool or it was named for them by a colleague paying respect.
Dulbecco’s name is attached to one of the most prevalent mammalian cell culture media: Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle media, or DMEM. This substance contains all of the sugars, amino acids, and small molecules (usually supplemented with serum) to keep mammalian cells alive for many generations. Dulbecco’s work on cellular transformation not only unlocked a key mechanism in the onset of cancer, but also provided the concept for generating immortalized cells as used in numerous laboratories today. One of Dulbecco’s mentors was Luria – whose name has become synonymous with LB (or Luria broth) used to grow many types of bacteria.
What other common laboratory tools have been named after preeminent scientists whose name may not immediately conjure a real individual?
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