The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.
My name is Renato. Why am I called Renato? One usually thinks that names are given randomly, but I'm certain this was not the case with me. I know this because my parents had a son before me who died from meningitis when he was 11 months old, and of course my mother was totally destroyed by this. So when I came along, in essence I replaced this little brother. This is why I was called Renato and this also explains why my mother was always so attached to me throughout her life. She was also very attached to my brother who died, because when she died, I found a little envelope in her desk, where she kept her keepsakes, containing blonde hair, which was a memento of my brother.
Were you blonde as well?
No, I don't think so. I think I was always dark, from the very beginning.
So you were an only child then or did you have other brothers and sisters?
No, no. I had one sister and one brother.
So that was it- my life was thus influenced by this connection with my mother. And this explains why, for example, I started school so early, because when I was little, from about 3 years old, my mother taught me to write, to read, to add up- in fact all this, so that when I was 6 years old, which is the age you start school in Italy, I was put into third form, because I was already so advanced and this two year advantage stayed with me throughout university, etc.
Mi chiamo Renato. Perché mi chiamo Renato? Tante volte si pensa che i nomi vengono dati così a caso, ma questo certo non era il caso, perché prima di me c'era stato un fratellino che, quando aveva 11 mesi, è morto di meningite e naturalmente mia madre era assolutamente distrutta da questo. Poi quando sono venuto io, io in fondo ho rimpiazzato questo fratellino. È per questo che mi han chiamato Renato e questo spiega anche perché mia madre è sempre stata così attaccata a me per tutta la sua vita. Ed era attaccata anche al fratellino morto, perché quando lei è morta, ho visto che nel suo scrittoio, dove teneva le cose privilegiate, c'era una piccola busta con dei capelli biondi, che erano il ricordo del fratellino.
Anche tu eri biondo?
No, non credo. Credo che fossi scuro sempre, sin dal principio.
Ma sei rimasto solo o hai avuto degli altri fratelli? O eri solo, figlio unico?
No, no. Io ho avuto una sorella e un fratello.
Sono così insomma- la mia vita perciò è stata influenzata da questa connessione con mia madre. E questo spiega perché, per esempio, ho cominciato ad andare a scuola molto presto, perché quando ero bambino, dai 3 anni, mia madre mi insegnava a scrivere, mi insegnava a leggere, mi insegnava a fare le addizioni- insomma tutto questo, per cui quando io poi ho avuto l'età di 6 anni, dove in Italia è l'età quando si va a scuola, mi hanno messo in terza, perché ero già così avanti e poi questo vantaggio di 2 anni è rimasto per tutta la vita universitaria eccetera.
Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.