Christian de Duve (b. 1917)

Belgian cytologist and biochemist Christian de Duve discovered lysosomes (the digestive organelles of the cell) and peroxisomes (organelles that are the site of metabolic processes involving hydrogen peroxide). In 1974 de Duve shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Albert Claude and George E. Palade “for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.”

De Duve was born in 1917 in Thames-Ditton (near London), where his Belgian parents had taken refuge during the First World War. The family returned to Belgium in 1920 and settled in Antwerp. De Duve entered the Catholic University of Louvain (Université catholique de Louvain) in 1934. Though initially interested in a career as a physician, de Duve became increasingly attracted to scientific research while working in the physiology laboratory of J.P. Bouckaert. After receiving his medical degree in 1941, de Duve pursued an advanced degree in chemistry which was awarded in 1946. Wishing to further his training in biochemistry, de Duve began an eighteen month appointment at the Medical Nobel Institute in Stockholm, in the laboratory of Hugo Theorell, who was to receive the Nobel Prize in 1955. De Duve then spent six months as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Washington University School of Medicine, working in the laboratory of Carl and Gerty Cori, who received the Nobel Prize while he was there. While in St. Louis de Duve also collaborated with Earl Sutherland, who became a Nobel laureate in 1971.

In 1947 de Duve joined the faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain. From 1962 he simultaneously headed research laboratories at Louvain and at Rockefeller University in New York City. In 1974 De Duve founded the International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology (ICP), a multidisciplinary biomedical research institute hosting several laboratories of the faculty of Medicine of Catholic University of Louvain. De Duve retired as professor emeritus of biochemistry from Catholic University of Louvain and Rockefeller University in 1985 and 1988, respectively. He directed the ICP until 1991; it was renamed the Christian de Duve Institute of Cellular Pathology in 1997.

Over the last two decades Christian de Duve has been investigating the origin and evolution of life and the structure and meaning of the universe. He has written several books, including A Guided Tour of the Living Cell (1984), Blueprint for a Cell (1991), Vital Dust (1995), Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning (2002), and Singularities: Landmarks on the Pathways of Life (2005).