July 6, 2007
La Jolla, CA – Salk scientist Marguerite Vogt, M.D., long regarded as one of science’s greatest unsung female researchers, died today. She was 94 years old.
A resident of La Jolla, CA., Vogt was the Institute’s oldest working scientist who logged more years than any other researcher at a Salk bench. She worked closely with Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco, M.D., also a long-time Salk investigator, on research that changed how both viruses and cancer are studied. The team first described how the polio virus forms plaques in cell cultures – work that transformed virology from a descriptive to a quantitative science – and then how a virus can turn a cell cancerous. Their studies provided some of the first clues to the genetic nature of cancer.
During her nearly 80-year career as a scientist, Vogt educated or helped train scores of scientists, young postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. In addition to Dulbecco, those under her tutelage include four researchers who eventually won the Nobel Prize.
Although Vogt won no awards of distinction, she was not unhappy about it – as she told a New York Times reporter in 2001: “I’m happy not to have been bothered. When you get too famous, you stop being able to work.”
Her love of science was obvious, judging from the 10-hour days she traditionally put in at her Salk laboratory, usually six days a week.
Born in 1913, Vogt’s devotion to science began at age 14, when, growing up as the daughter of well-known German brain researchers Oskar and Cécile Mugnier Vogt, she launched into her own studies of fruit flies. After receiving her M.D. in cancer research from Berlin University, she worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm/Max Planck Institute, where her father was director, until the family left the city for political reasons and set up their own research center in the Black Forest. They stayed there until the end of World War II.
Vogt’s parents trained Marguerite and her older sister, Marthe, to be scientists. In fact, they divided up the brain research and specified areas of interest for their daughters – Marthe was to take on endocrinology of the brain, and Marguerite was to study genetics. Marthe became a prominent neuropharmacologist and worked at Cambridge University in England before moving to La Jolla to be close to Marguerite shortly before she died at age 100.
Marguerite emigrated to the United States in 1950 to work as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology before moving to the Salk Institute as one of the first senior scientists. Although Vogt was deeply devoted to her science, she made time for other pursuits, including athletics, playing the grand piano she brought from Europe, and keeping in touch with her ever-widening circle of friends.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.