Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rene Dubos

Rene Jules Debos was born on February 20, 1901 in Saint-Brice-sous-Foret, a villiage north of Paris, France. He spent his youth in the village of Henonville, a village of about 450 on the border of Ile-de-France and Picardy. His father, Georges Alexandre Dubos, was a butcher and his parents ran butcher shops in both villages. When he was eight years old he suffered from rheumatic fever, which left him with a damaged heart. His reading of the novels of Jules Verne sparked his interest in science.

He attended high school and the National Institute of Agronomy in Paris, and then briefly served in the French Army, until he was discharged due to his heart condition. He emigrated to America in 1924 and in 1927 he obtained his doctorate from Rutgers University. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1938. Aside from the years 1942 through 1944 when he was a professor of tropical medicine at Harvard University, he spent his in entire scientific career at Rockefeller University.

Dubos' research dealt with microbiology and looking for products of soil bacteria that prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This research culminated in the isolation of Bacillus brevis a soil bacteria that produces a substance he named tyrothricin which contains two substances he named gramicidin and tyrocidine. These antibiotics prevent protein synthesis in gram-positive bacterial, killing them. They have no effect on gram-negative bacterial. This was the first time an antibiotic was isolated from a microorganism. This discovery stimulated Howard Florey and Ernst Chain to research Alexander Flemming's penicillin and Selman Waksmen, Dubos' former teacher, to research what would be streptomycin.

In his later years Dubos wrote several books exploring the interplay of environmental forces on the physical, mental, and spiritual development of mankind and he is responsible for coining the phrase "think globally, act locally". The author of over twenty books, he won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1969 for his book "So Human an Animal". His other honors include election to the National Academy of Science in 1941, the Trudeau Medal from the National Tuberculosis Association in 1951 and he was awarded more than 20 honorary degrees.

He died, on his 81st birthday, February 20, 1982.


Montgomerey, Paul L.; "Rene Dubos, Scientist and Writer, Dead"; New York Times; February 21, 1982

"The Life of Rene Dubos: Choosing to be Human" from an exibition at the Rita an Frits Markus Library at

Rene Dubos Wikipedia Entry

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