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Centrifugal fractionation


The Rockefeller Institute and Albert Claude
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research was, of course, a sort of legendary institution: the most famous research institute in the field of biology and medicine in the world; even at that time it had already something like a dozen Nobel Prize winners on its staff, or having been on its staff. It was... it was the site where many important discoveries were made, and I just wanted to... it was known... it was known from the literature that... Martin Arrowsmith [sic], which was a very famous book by Sinclair Lewis – was all about the Rockefeller Institute. Microbe Hunters – another famous book at that time by a man, Paul de Kruif... named Paul de Kruif... also he was actually associated with an institute... anyway, it was a dream place, and so I had to go and visit it. And I had another reason to visit the Rockefeller: namely that I had a countryman who was working there and had been working there for 20 years. This countryman was Albert Claude. And Albert Claude... I could spend two hours speaking about Albert Claude – an extraordinary colourful personality. He... he was born in a small village in the Belgian Ardennes and left school at the age of ten, to work in a factory, because of family reasons. And during the First World War he became involved in... in war... work... that is, he worked for the British Intelligence Service, actually, in occupied Belgium and had several... several medals and decorations, so when the war finished, there was a law... was enacted in Belgium mostly for young people who had to interrupt their schooling because of the war – they would be allowed to enter university without a final high school diploma. And Albert Claude took advantage of that law to enter... to apply to the University of Liège, to enter medical school at the University of Liège, and in fact he hardly had got to primary school that time. He was very worried about that because he thought the courses were given in Latin at the university. Anyway, amazingly, he got his MD degree, got a fellowship or scholarship to go and work in Germany in a lab... I forget the name of the head of that lab, but the man who had found that cancer was due to some kind of microbe, to a bacteria. And he was the director of the lab and the first thing Albert Claude did when he went there was to prove his boss wrong, so that this bacterium was just due to contamination or whatever. So he was expelled from the lab and went to work with Albert Fisher who was expert – the man who just started cell culture. And so after that Claude came back to Belgium, and he was even more naive than I am. He wrote a letter to Flexner who was the director of the Rockefeller institute and said, 'I want to work on the virus discovered by... by Rous – the sarcoma, the first virus known to cause a tumour... Peyton Rous, at Rockefeller, and I want to purify that virus, and I have decided that the best place for me to do this work is the Rockefeller Institute, so I'm applying.' Just like that.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, Arrowsmith, Microbe Hunters, Belgium, University of Liège, Sinclair Lewis, Paul de Kruif, Albert Claude, Albert Fisher, Peyton Rous

Duration: 4 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008