Christian de Duve

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Christian de Duve
Born (1917-10-02)2 October 1917
Thames Ditton, Surrey, Great Britain
Died 4 May 2013(2013-05-04) (aged 95)
Grez-Doiceau, Belgium
Residence Belgium
Citizenship Belgian
Nationality Belgium
Fields Medicine
Cell biology
Institutions Catholic University of Leuven
Rockefeller University
Alma mater Onze-Lieve-Vrouwecollege
Catholic University of Leuven
Known for Cell organelles
Notable awards Francqui Prize for Biological and Medical Sciences (1960)
Gairdner Foundation International Award (1967)
Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics (1973)
Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (1974)
E. B. Wilson Medal (1989)
Spouse Janine Herman (m. 1943, died 2008)
Children 2 sons, Thierry and Alain, and 2 daughters, Anne and Françoise

Christian René, viscount de Duve (2 October 1917 – 4 May 2013)[1] was a Nobel Prize-winning Belgian cytologist and biochemist. He was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, Great Britain, as a son of Belgian refugees during the First World War.[2] They returned to Belgium in 1920. He was the Founding President of the prestigious L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.[3] He made serendipitous discoveries of two eukaryotic organelles, peroxisome and lysosome, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974 with Albert Claude and George E. Palade. He was a multilingual, able to speak English, French, German, and Flemish, and the skill which once saved his life.[4]

He died at his chosen time on 4 May (Saturday) 2013 by self-induced euthanasia in the presence of all of his children.[5] The life of Christian de Duve, his work, his passion were the subject of a documentary directed in 2012 by Aurélie Wijnants. [6]

Early life and education[edit]

de Duve was born of a shopkeeper Alphonse de Duve and wife Madeleine Pungs in the village of Thames Ditton, near London. His parents fled Belgium at the outbreak of the First World War. After the war in 1920, at age three, he and his family returned to Belgium. He was a precocious boy, always the best student (primus perpetuus as he recalled) in school, except for one year when he was pronounced "out of competition" to give chance to other students.[1] He was educated by the Jesuits at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwinstituut in Antwerp, before studying at the Catholic University of Leuven in 1934.[7] He wanted to specialize in endocrinology and joined the laboratory of the Belgian physiologist Joseph P. Bouckaert. During his last year at medical school in 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium. He was drafted to the Belgian army, and posted in southern France as medical officer. There, he was almost immediately taken as prisoner of war by Germans. But fortunate of his ability to speak fluent German and Flemish, he outwitted his captors and escaped back to Belgium. (The adventure he later described as "more comical than heroic".)[8] He immediately continued his medical course, and obtained his MD in 1941 from Leuven. His primary research was on insulin and its role in glucose metabolism. He made an initial discovery that a commercial preparation of insulin was contaminated with another pancreatic hormone, the insulin antagonist glucagon. However, laboratory supplies at Leuven were in shortage, he therefore enrolled in a programme to earn a degree in chemistry at the Cancer Institute. His research on insulin was summed up in a 400-page book titled Glucose, Insuline et Diabète (Glucose, Insulin and Diabetes) published in 1945, simultaneously in Brussels and Paris. The book was condensed into a technical dissertation which earned him the most advanced degree at the university level agrégation de l'enseignement supérieur (an equivalent of a doctorate – he called it "a sort of glorified Ph.D.") in 1945.[8] His thesis was followed by a number of scientific publications.[9] He subsequently obtained MSc in chemistry in 1946, for which he worked on the purification of penicillin.[10][11] To enhance his skill in biochemistry, he trained in the laboratory of Hugo Theorell (who later won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1955) at the Nobel Medical Institute in Stockholm for 18 months during 1946-1947. In 1947 he received a financial assistance as Rockefeller Foundation fellow and worked for six months with Carl and Gerti Cori's at Washington University in St. Louis (the husband and wife were joint winners of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947).[4]

Career and research[edit]

In March 1947 de Duve joined the faculty of the medical school of the Catholic University of Leuven teaching physiological chemistry. In 1951 he became full professor. In 1960 Detlev Bronk, the then president of the Rockfeller Institute (what is now Rockefeller University) of New York City, met him at Brussels and offered him professorship and a laboratory. The rector of Leuven, afraid of entirely losing de Duve, made a compromise over dinner that de Duve would still be under part-time appointment with a relief from teaching and conducting examinations. The rector and Bronk made an agreement which would intilally last for five years. The official implementation was in 1962, and de Duve simultaneously headed the research laboratories at Leuven and at Rockefeller University, dividing his time between New York and Leuven.[12] In 1969 the Leuven university was split into two separate universities. He joined the French-speaking side of Université catholique de Louvain. He took emeritus status at Université catholique de Louvain in 1985 and at Rockefeller in 1988, though he continued to conduct research. Among other subjects, he studied the distribution of enzymes in rat liver cells using rate-zonal centrifugation. His work on cell fractionation provided an insight into the function of cell structures. He specialized in subcellular biochemistry and cell biology and discovered peroxisomes and lysosomes, cell organelles.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26]

His work has contributed to the emerging consensus that the endosymbiotic theory is correct; this idea proposes that mitochondria, chloroplasts, and perhaps other organelles of eukaryotic cells originated as prokaryote endosymbionts, which came to live inside eukaryotic cells.

de Duve proposed that peroxisomes may have been the first endosymbionts, which allowed cells to withstand the growing amounts of free molecular oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Since peroxisomes have no DNA of their own, this proposal has much less evidence than the similar claims for mitochondria and chloroplasts. His later years were mostly devoted to origin of life studies, which he admitted as still a speculative field (see thioester).

Personal life[edit]

de Duve was brought up as a Roman Catholic. However his later years indicated inclination towards agnosticism, if not strict atheism.[27][28] He was opposed to the notion of a creator.[29] "It would be an exaggeration to say I'm not afraid of death," he explicitly said to a Belgian newspaper Le Soir just a month before his death, "but I'm not afraid of what comes after, because I'm not a believer."[30][31] He strongly supported biological evolution as a fact, and dismissive of creation science and intelligent design, as explicitly stated in his last book, Genetics of Original Sin: The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humanity. He was among the seventy-eight Nobel laureates in science to endorse the effort to repeal Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008.

de Duve married Janine Herman on 30 September 1943. Together they had had two sons, Thierry and Alain, and two daughters, Anne and Françoise. Janine died in 2008, aged 86.[10][32]

Awards and honours[edit]

de Duve won Francqui Prize for Biological and Medical Sciences in 1960, and Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974. King Baudouin of Belgium honoured him to Viscount in 1989.[10] He was the recipient of the Canada Gairdner International Award in 1967, and the Dr. H. P. Heineken Prize in 1973 from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1975, and won the E. B. Wilson Award from the American Society for Cell Biology in 1989. He was also a member of the Royal Academies of Medicine and the Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Literature of Belgium; the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Academy of Sciences of Paris; the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina; and the Royal Society of London. In addition, he received honorary doctorates from eighteen universities around the world.[4][33]


de Duve died on 4 May 2013, at his home in Nethen, Belgium, at the age of 95. He decided to end his life by legal euthanasia, performed by two doctors before his four children. He had been long suffering from cancer and atrial fibrillation, and his health problems were exacerbated by a recent fall in his home. He is survived by two sons and two daughters; two brothers, Pierre and Daniel; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.[34][35][36]


de Duve founded a multidisciplinary biomedical research institute called the International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology (ICP) in 1974, which was renamed the Christian de Duve Institute of Cellular Pathology in 1997, now simply de Duve Institute at Brussels.[7][37] He was one of the founding members of the Belgian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, established on 15 September 1951.[38]

de Duve remains in the annals of biology as an inventor of important scientific terminologies. He coined lysosome, peroxisome, autophagy, endocytosis, and exocytosis in one instance at the Ciba Foundation Symposium on Lysosomes held in London during 12-14 February 1963, while he "was in a word-coining mood".[14][39]


de Duve was a prolific writer, both in technical and popular works. Most notable ones are:


  1. ^ a b Blobel, Günter (2013). "Christian de Duve (1917–2013)". Nature 498 (7454): 300. doi:10.1038/498300a. PMID 23783621. 
  2. ^ Denise Gellene (6 May 2013). "Christian de Duve, 95, Dies; Nobel-Winning Biochemist". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  3. ^ UNESCO Media Services (17 May 2013). "The Director-General Pays Tribute to the Memory of Professor Christian de Duve". UNESCO. Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  4. ^ a b c Opperdoes, Fred (2013). "A Feeling for the Cell: Christian de Duve (1917–2013)". PLoS Biology 11 (10): e1001671. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001671. 
  5. ^ Maugh II TH (7 May 2013). "Dr. Christian de Duve dies at 95; Nobel-winning scientist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  6. ^ [ Presentation of the documentary about Christian de Duve on Eurochannel]
  7. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica. "Christian René de Duve". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  8. ^ a b de Duve, Christian (2004). "My love affair with insulin". Journal of Biological Chemistry 279 (21): 21679–21688. doi:10.1074/jbc.X400002200. PMID 15023999. 
  9. ^ Katherine E. Cullen (2009). Encyclopedia of Life Science, Volume 1. Infobase Publishing. p. 266–269. ISBN 9780816070084. 
  10. ^ a b c Martin Childs (14 May 2013). "Christian de Duve: Authority on cell mechanisms". The Independent (London). Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Sabatini, D. D.; Adesnik, M. (2013). "Christian de Duve: Explorer of the cell who discovered new organelles by using a centrifuge". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (33): 13234. doi:10.1073/pnas.1312084110. 
  12. ^ John H. Exton (2013). Crucible of Science: The Story of the Cori Laboratory. Oxford University Press. p. 109. ISBN 9780199861071. 
  13. ^ Turk, V (2012). "Special issue: Proteolysis 50 years after the discovery of lysosome in honor of Christian de Duve". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1824 (1): 1–2. doi:10.1016/j.bbapap.2011.11.001. PMID 22142840. 
  14. ^ a b Klionsky, DJ (2008). "Autophagy revisited: A conversation with Christian de Duve". Autophagy 4 (6): 740–3. PMID 18567941. 
  15. ^ Berthet, J (2007). "Scientific work of Christian de Duve". Bulletin et Memoires de l'Academie Royale de Medecine de Belgique 162 (10–12): 499–504. PMID 18557391. 
  16. ^ Courtoy, P (2007). "A tribute to Professor Christian de Duve on his 90th birthday". Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine 11 (5): 902–5. doi:10.1111/j.1582-4934.2007.00118.x. PMID 17979871. 
  17. ^ Zetterström, R (2006). "A. Claude (1899-1983), C. De Duve (1917-) and G. E. Palade (1912-): Nobel Prize for discoveries in integrated cell physiology. Clarification of aetiology and pathogenesis of a great number of diseases". Acta Paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992) 95 (12): 1523–5. doi:10.1080/08035250601089116. PMID 17129956. 
  18. ^ Tricot, JP (2006). "Nobel prize winner Christian de Duve. From insulin to lysosomes". Hormones (Athens, Greece) 5 (2): 151–5. doi:10.14310/horm.2002.11179. PMID 16807228. 
  19. ^ Raju, TN (1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1974: Albert Claude (1899-1983), George Emil Palade (b 1912), and Christian Réne de Duve (b 1917)". The Lancet 354 (9185): 1219. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75433-7. PMID 10513750. 
  20. ^ Bowers, WE (1998). "Christian de Duve and the discovery of lysosomes and peroxisomes". Trends in Cell Biology 8 (8): 330–3. doi:10.1016/S0962-8924(98)01314-2. PMID 9704410. 
  21. ^ Berthet, J (1994). "Introduction of Professor Christian De Duve, Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1974". Bulletin et Memoires de l'Academie Royale de Medecine de Belgique 149 (12): 476–80. PMID 8563687. 
  22. ^ Takano, T (1975). "Profile of Dr. C. De Duve, the 1974 Nobel prize winner in medical physiology". Tanpakushitsu Kakusan Koso. Protein, Nucleic Acid, Enzyme 20 (1): 77–8. PMID 1094499. 
  23. ^ James, J (1974). "The Nobel Prize in Medicine for Claude, Palade and De Duve". Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde 118 (52): 1949–51. PMID 4612387. 
  24. ^ Olsen, BR; Lie, SO (1974). "Nobel prize in medicine 1974 (Albert Claude, George Palade, Christian de Duve)". Tidsskrift for den Norske Laegeforening : Tidsskrift for Praktisk Medicin, ny Raekke 94 (34–36): 2400–3. PMID 4614493. 
  25. ^ Florkin, M (1974). "Homage to Albert Claude and Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize laureates in medicine and physiology, 1974". Archives Internationales de Physiologie et de Biochimie 82 (5): 807–15. doi:10.3109/13813457409072328. PMID 4142698. 
  26. ^ De Duve, C; Hooft, C (1968). "Quinquennial prizes of the medical sciences, period 1961-1965. Address by Prof. Chr. De Duve". Verhandelingen - Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Geneeskunde van Belgie 30 (7): 381–8. PMID 5712764. 
  27. ^ Michael Ruse (2010). "Introductory Essay for Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning". International Society for Science & Religion. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  28. ^ John Farrell (5 August 2013). "A Nobel Laureate And Proponent Of Original Sin". Forbes. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  29. ^ "Does the Universe Have a Purpose? No". John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  30. ^ "Nobel-winning cancer researcher ends his own life". ABC. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  31. ^ Martin Childs (14 May 2013). "Christian de Duve: Authority on cell mechanisms". The Independent (London). Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  32. ^ "Christian de Duve AKA Christian René de Duve". NNDB. Soylent Communications. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  33. ^ NCSE (6 May 2013). "Christian de Duve dies". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  34. ^ Décès du prix Nobel belge Christian de Duve, qui a choisi l'euthanasie, AFP 6/5/2013.
  35. ^ Belgian Nobel Prize winner euthanised
  36. ^ Stafford, N. (2013). "Christian de Duve". BMJ 346: f3821. doi:10.1136/bmj.f3821. 
  37. ^ de Duve Institute. "de Duve Institute: History". Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  38. ^ Claude Lièbecq and Fred Opperdoes. "Belgian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Short history of the Society". Belgian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  39. ^ De Duve, C (1983). "Lysosomes revisited". European Journal of Biochemistry / FEBS 137 (3): 391–7. doi:10.1111/j.1432-1033.1983.tb07841.x. PMID 6319122. 

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