Luria, S. E. (Salvador Edward), 1912-1991

Alternative names
Birth 1912-08-13
Death 1991-02-06

Biographical notes:

Correspondence to Lewis Mumford from S. E. Luria and his wife, Zella Luria.

From the description of Letters, 1970-1977, n.d., to Lewis and Sophia Mumford. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155871852

Salvador E. Luria was a bacteriologist whose work with Max Delbruck on bacteriophage demonstrated that bacteria resistant to certain phages arose through gene mutations. His later work showed that phages also mutate genetically. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 with Max Delbruck and Alfred D. Hershey.

From the description of Papers, 1931-1992. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122347539

Salvador E. Luria was born on 13 August 1912 in Turin, Italy. He received his M.D. at the University of Turin in 1935, later becoming a specialist in radiology in Rome. With the rise of fascism and anti-semitism in Italy, he left in 1938 for Paris, where he was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Radium until 1940.

At that time, as the Nazis invaded France, Luria left for the United States (later, in 1947, he became a U.S. citizen), for a position as Research Assistant in Surgical Bacteriology at Columbia University, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation, where he remained until 1942. He worked during the summers with Max Delbrück in Cold Spring Harbor on bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria). When Delbrück went to Vanderbilt, Luria went with him as a Guggenheim fellow for one year. They continued their collaboration after Luria became an Instructor in Bacteriology at Indiana University in 1943.

Luria and Delbrück's work on bacteriophage demonstrated that bacteria resistant to certain phages arose through gene mutations. Later work by Luria showed that phages also mutate genetically. The existence of genetic recombination in phage was revealed independently by Delbrück and by Alfred D. Hershey, the latter subsequently showing that phages were composed of DNA. This work earned Luria, Delbrück, and Hershey the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969.

At Indiana University, Luria rose from Instructor to Assistant Professor (1945-1947) to Associate Professor of Bacteriology (1947-1950). One of his graduate students was James D. Watson; it was Luria who arranged for Watson to work at the Cavendish Laboratory, where he met Francis H.C. Crick.

In 1950, Luria became Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Illinois, where he remained until 1959. During this time, he also lectured in biophysics at the University of Colorado in 1950, was the Jesup Lecturer in Zoology at Columbia University in 1950, and was the Niewland Lecturer in Biology at the University of Notre Dame in 1959.

Luria became Professor of Microbiology and Chairman of the Microbiology Committee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in 1959. In 1964, he was made Sedgwick Professor of Biology, and then in 1970, Institute Professor. In 1972, he founded the Center for Cancer Research at M.I.T., which he directed from 1972 to 1985.

Luria was affiliated with many professional organizations during his career at M.I.T. He was a Non-Resident Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, was on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital (1965-1968), was a member of the Committee on Personnel of the American Cancer Society (1966-1971), was on the boards of the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology (1972-1979) and the Basel Institute of Immunology (1977-1979), served as Chairman for the National Research Council's Board of Research on the Effects of Radiation, and was senior scientist for the Repligen Corporation.

Luria's strong political views prompted him to take a stand on many public issues, including civil defense, nuclear arms, the Middle East, and the United States' involvement in Vietnam and Central America. In 1969, he was blacklisted by the National Institutes of Health for his political activity, which included letter-writing campaigns and newspaper advertisements.

During Luria's career, he was involved with the editing of many scholarly journals. He was Editor of Virology, Associate Editor of Journal of Bacteriology, and Section Editor of Biological Abstracts, as well as being on the editorial boards of Experimental Cell Research, Journal of Molecular Biology, American Naturalist, Photochemistry and Photobiology, Annual Review of Genetics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

Luria was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, the American Society for Microbiology (Vice President, 1966-1967; President, 1967-1968), the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Society of Naturalists, the Genetics Society of America, the National Academy of Sciences, the Society for General Microbiology, and the Society for the Study of Development and Growth.

He received many honorary degrees, including those from Brown University, Indiana University, Providence College, Rockefeller University, Rutgers University, University of Chicago, and University of Palermo.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Luria received the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1969 with Max Delbrück for their work on the genetics of bacteria and bacteriophage. In 1974, Luria won a National Book Award in the Sciences for Life: The Unfinished Experiment, a work which has been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese. Other books that Luria published include General Virology ; 36 Lectures in Biology ; A View of Life ; and an autobiographical work, A Slot Machine, A Broken Test Tube . He published numerous articles.

When Luria died on 6 February 1991 in Lexington, Massachusetts, he was Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is survived by his wife, Zella Hurwitz Luria, a professor of psychology at Tufts University, and his son, Daniel David Luria, an economist.

From the guide to the Salvador E. Luria Papers, 1923-1992, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Nuclear energy
  • Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975
  • Viral genetics
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Civil defense
  • Political participation
  • Bacteriophages--Genetics
  • Microbial genetics
  • Nobel prizes
  • Central America--Foreign relations-1979-
  • Molecular biology
  • Central America--Foreign relations--1979-


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