ASBMB Nobel Prize Winners

1958 – Joshua Lederberg

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Lederberg

Joshua Lederberg (1925-present) was awarded half of the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the mechanisms of genetic recombination in bacteria. He carried out experiments with Escherichia coli which demonstrated that bacteria can reproduce sexually and that bacterial genetic systems are similar to those of multicellular organisms. He also showed that successive generations of mated bacteria were genetically distinct, which explained how they could evolve and acquire new properties such as antibiotic resistance. Later, Lederberg showed that certain bacteriophages (viruses infecting bacteria) can carry a bacterial gene from one bacterium to another, a phenomenon he termed transduction. These discoveries greatly increased the use of bacteria in genetic research.