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Joining the Rockefeller Institute


Becoming weary of teaching and administrative duties
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Well, I have now to sort of take a break in the story, and the break is 1962. By 1962 we had... we had characterised lysosomes and knew a fair amount about them – not yet everything that I mentioned, but a fair amount. We had, already, good evidence about the existence of peroxisomes even though we had not yet named them that way, and really not enough information concerning their functions, but at least we knew they existed. And just a little before 1962 – maybe the winter of 1961 – on one of my trips to the United States, I went to the Rockefeller Institute and visited George Palade, who had become a good friend of mine by that time. And I must confess... I must tell that at that time I had become very... very... how should I say? Weary with my lot in Belgium, because, it's true, I had succeeded in developing a very good group of investigators and a large group – I had more than 30 people, post docs came... I mean, it was... it was a well-known group in the world; it had a reputation and we did good work. But at a cost... at least to me a big cost because in the meantime I had to give... most of the teaching I had to do myself, which was biochemistry to medical students, which meant at least three or four hours of teaching a week, for the whole year round. I had to take all the examinations which meant... including the failures that had to be re-examined the second time... interrogating orally about 1,000 students a year, which meant practically devoting two whole months to examination. Then I was, of course, a member of the faculty so I had to serve on one committee or another, I was involved in refereeing of various things, and also I had to find money, and in those days money was very, very difficult to find and so, fortunately, I was able to get a fair amount of money from the United States – first from the Lilly Laboratories, then from the Rockefeller Foundation, and then from NIH [National Institutes of Health], and without that I couldn't have supported my lab. But all that meant an enormous burden and I had very little administrative help. I had one secretary to do all the work. And so it meant that I spent a lot of time buying equipment, buying chemicals, paying for them, writing cheques; I mean, it was... and I got very little support from my university. At that time the university was poor – they didn't have too much... too much interest in research; they thought research was a kind of luxury that you indulged in after you'd devoted your time toward your duties, if time was left you were allowed to, and if you found the money. And so all that was sort of weighing on me.

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: 1962, Lilly Laboratories, Rockefeller Foundation, NIH, National Institutes of Health, George Palade

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008