Inside Salk - July 2012 - page 6

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Lead Story
Inside Salk 07|12
Brilliantminds
Dulbecco was born in Catanzaro, Italy, in 1914. When he was a student
at the University of Torino in Italy—an institution he attended at age
16—hemet scientists who would strongly influence his life. There, in
the laboratory of Giuseppe Levi, a professor of anatomy, hemet students
Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini, both of whomwould also go on
to winNobel Prizes.
Before and during the SecondWorldWar, Dulbecco served forced stints
as a medical officer in Italy’s military, both on the French front and the
Russian front, where he was wounded. He later joined the resistance and
served as a village physician near Torino. After the war, he and Levi-
Montalcini left Italy for theUnited States. In 1947, Dulbecco joined Luria
at IndianaUniversity—the university awardedDulbecco the President’s
Medal for Excellence in 2011—and together they worked on viruses that
infect bacteria. Luria andDulbecco shared a small lab, and JamesWatson,
another futureNobel Prize winner, soon joined them, as Luria wasWatson’s
doctoral advisor.
While at Indiana, Dulbecco attracted the interest of Max Delbrück, who
in 1949 offeredDulbecco a job at Caltech as a research fellow. Delbrück
later won aNobel Prize for discovering that bacteria become resistant to
viruses as a result of geneticmutations.
At Caltech, Dulbeccomet Marguerite Vogt, another European immi-
grant, who would become his longtime scientific collaborator. Together
they first described how the poliovirus forms plaques in cell cultures—
work that transformed virology from a descriptive to a quantitative science.
In 1963, Dulbecco left Caltech to become one of the first Fellows
of the Salk Institute, (a position equivalent to a full professor in a regular
faculty) which had been founded three years earlier by polio vaccine
pioneer Jonas Salk—amove that would establish Salk as a beacon for
talented cancer scientists.
Sharedpurpose
Vogt joinedDulbecco at Salk, where they worked on tumor viruses.
They studied Simian vacuolating virus 40 (SV40) andmouse polyomavirus,
a related virus that can cause cancer in rodents. Their work showed that
SV40 inserted its genes into the cells it infects, causing the cells to grow
uncontrollably. This definitively proved the essential role of SV40 genes in
transforming cells into cancers and, more fundamentally, provided the first
clear evidence that geneticmutations cause cancer.
At Salk, Dulbecco had the opportunity to cultivate the next generation
of scientists through hismentorship. He wrote that the daily interaction
through the years with a continuously changing group of young investiga-
tors shaped his work. “For although I had general goals, the actual path
followed bymy researchwas pragmatically determined by what could be
done at any given time, andmy young collaborators were an essential part
of this process,” he wrote.
Walter Eckhart
, now professor emeritus in Salk’sMolecular and Cell
Biology Laboratory, remembers the intellectual pull that Dulbecco had on
him. He beganworking withDulbecco in 1965 as a postdoctoral fellow
andwas later appointed to the Institute’s faculty. Eckhart and other young
scientists at the Salk focused on the regulation of cell growth andwhat
happens when cancer disrupts that regulation and forces cells to run amok.
“It was exciting to work around the clock and to be part of experiments
that solidified the idea that genes could be instrumental in provoking
cancer,” Eckhart says. “At the time, a lot of us didn’t quite appreciate the
magnitude of what we were living. There was a lot to know and to discover.
At the time, a lot of us didn’t quite appreciate themagnitude
of what wewere living. Therewas a lot to know and to discover.
Dulbeccowas awonderfulmentor.
–WALTER ECKHART
Marguerite Vogt, 1989
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