Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Renato Dulbecco was born in 1914 in Catanzaro (Southern Italy) from a Calabrese mother and a Ligurian father. He graduated from high school at 16, then moved to the University of Turin. Despite a strong interest for mathematichs and physics, he decided to study medicine. At only 22, he graduated in morbid anathomy and pathology under the supervision of professor Giuseppe Levi. During these years he met Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini, whose friendship and encouragement would later bring him to the U.S.A.. In 1936 he was called up for military service as a medical officer, and later (1938) discharged. In 1940 Italy entered WWII and Dulbecco was recalled and sent to the front in France and Russia, where he was wounded. After hospitalization and the collapse of Fascism, he joined the resistance against the German occupation. After the war he resumed his work at Levi's laboratory, but soon he moved, together with Rita Levi Montalcini , to the U.S.A., where, in Bloomington, Indiana, he worked with Salvador Luria on bacteriophages.In summer of 1949 he moved to Caltech, joining Max Delbrück's group. Here started his studies about animal oncoviruses.In the late fifties he takes Howard Temin as a student, with whom and David Baltimore he will later share the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for "their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell". In 1962 he moved to the Salk institute and then in 1972 to The imperial Cancer Research Fund in London. In 1986 he is among the scientists who launch the Human Genome Project. In 1993 he moved back to Italy, where he is currently president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at C.N.R. (National Council of Research) in Milan.
Why did he get the Nobel Prize?
Dulbecco and his group demonstrated that the infection of normal cells with certain types of viruses (oncoviruses) led to the incorporation of virus-derived genes in the host cell genome, and that this event lead to the transformation (the acquisition of a tumor phenotype) of those cells. As Howard Temin and David Baltimore, who share the Nobel Prize with Dulbecco, demonstrated, the transfer of virus genes to the cell is mediated by an enzyme, the reverse transcriptase (or, more precisely, RNA dependent DNA polymerase), which replicates the viral genome (made of RNA) into DNA, which is later incorporated in the host genome.
Oncoviruses are the cause of some forms of human cancers: Dulbecco's study gave us the basis for precise understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which they propagate, thus allowing us to better fight them. Furthermore, the mechanisms of cancerogenesis mediated by oncoviruses closely resemble the process by which normal cells degenerate into cancer cells: Dulbecco's discoveries allowed us to better understand and fight cancer.
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