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Joshua Lederberg: biodmedical science and the public interest written in red lettering.
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a chronology of his life

Entries in italics provide historical context for Lederberg's life and work.


Joshua Lederberg born May 23 in Montclair, New Jersey, to Zvi Hirsch Lederberg, a rabbi, and Esther Goldenbaum Lederberg.


Stuyvesant High School, Manhattan. Participates in the American Institute of Science, precursor to the Westinghouse Science Talent Search.


Undergraduate studies at Columbia University, leading to the B.A. Examines genetics of Neurospora (a common bread mold) with Professor Francis J. Ryan.


Oswald T. Avery, Colin M. MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty demonstrate that genetic information is encoded in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).


Military service in the U.S. Naval Reserve's V-12 program, a compressed premedical and medical curriculum, at St. Albans Naval Hospital, Long Island.


Medical Student at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and research assistant in Professor Ryan's zoology laboratory.


ENIAC, the first fully automated, vacuum-tube electronic computer, assembled at the University of Pennsylvania.


Research Fellow at Yale University with Professor Edward L. Tatum. Receives his Ph.D. with a thesis on his discovery of genetic recombination in the bacterium Escherichia coli.


Professor of genetics and founder of the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Wisconsin. Conducts research in the genetics of E. coli, Salmonella antigens, and the exchange of genetic material in bacteria through bacterial viruses (viral transduction).

1950- present

Member of various panels of the President's Science Advisory Committee.


James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick elucidate the double helical structure of DNA.


Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Launch of the first earth satellite, Sputnik, by Soviet Union triggers race in rocketry and space research with the United States.


Wins Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Tatum and George W. Beadle for studies on the genetics of bacteria.


Investigates the possibility of life on other planets and of interplanetary contamination as a member of several National Academy of Sciences and NASA committees on space biology.


Founder and chairman of the Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine. Begins research in the genetics of Bacillus subtilis (1959) and in splicing and recombining DNA (1969).


Department of Defense creates ARPANET, predecessor of the Internet, to facilitate military research.


Member of President John F. Kennedy's Panel on Mental Retardation.


Launches DENDRAL, a computer program designed to emulate inductive reasoning in chemistry and medicine with the help of Artificial Intelligence.


Publishes "Science and Man," a weekly column on science and human affairs in the Washington Post.


Consultant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during negotiations for a biological weapons limitation treaty in Geneva.


Werner Arber, Hamilton O. Smith, and Daniel Nathans discover restriction enzymes that can cut a DNA molecule into fragments which can then be recombined, the basis of genetic engineering.


Member of Board of Directors of the Natural Resources Defense Council from its founding.


Intel develops the first microprocessor chip, ushering in the age of the personal computer.


United Nations Convention outlawing the use of biological weapons signed by 73 countries, including the United States.


Computerized axial tomography scanning (CAT scan) makes possible three-dimensional X-ray imaging of the human body, giving computers a central role in medical research and clinical practice.
The Department of Defense opens ARPANET to civilian research

Lederberg helps establish SUMEX-AIM, a nationwide interactive computer network using ARPANET to host biomedical research projects


A committee of 139 scientists calls for a moratorium on certain kinds of recombinant DNA research until their environmental risks can be determined.


After mapping Mars from orbit, U.S. Viking I and Viking II spacecraft set down on the surface of the planet, take photographs and conduct soil analyses, but find no clear signs of life.


President of Rockefeller University in New York City, a graduate university specializing in biomedical research.


The structure of all the genes (the genome) of a simple organism, the virus SV40, is determined.


Advisor to President Jimmy Carter on cancer research as chairman of the President's Cancer Panel.


Trustee of the Sackler Medical School, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, the Carnegie Corporation, New York, and other academic, research, and environmental institutions. Member of the U.S. Defense Science Board, which advises the Secretary of Defense on technological developments affecting the military and national security.


AIDS first identified as a new infectious disease.


Insulin produced in bacteria approved by the Federal Drug Administration for human use.


Iraqi forces use poison gas to kill 5,000 insurgent Kurds during war with Iran, demonstrating the continued danger of chemical warfare.


Awarded the National Medal of Science by President George Bush.


Professor emeritus and Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Scholar at Rockefeller University.


Heads Defense Department Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, which concludes that there is insufficient epidemiological evidence for a coherent Gulf War "syndrome".


Japanese religious cult Aum Supreme Truth releases nerve gas in Tokyo subway, killing 12 and injuring over 5,000 in the most deadly bioterrorist attack to date.


Mars Pathfinder rover explores surface of Mars. Scottish researchers clone Dolly the sheep by extracting DNA from a cell in the udder of a donor sheep and inserting it into the nucleus of an unfertilized egg. The procedure brings closer the creation of animals that can produce drugs, like insulin, for human use, but also stirs ethical concerns over the potential cloning of human beings.


Scientists in industrial and government laboratories complete the first map of the human genome.


Lederberg continues to conduct laboratory research on bacterial and human genetics, and to advise government and industry on global health policy, biological warfare, and the threat of bioterrorism.

View the extensive Lederberg papers on Profiles in Science.