Salvador Luria Biography

Salvador E. Luria, an Italian microbiologist, made significant contributions to the field of virology and genetics. Alongside Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for their groundbreaking discoveries on virus replication and genetic structure. Born into a prominent Jewish family in Turin, Italy, Luria faced obstacles due to the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, which banned Jews from academic research fellowships. Determined to pursue his passion for bacteriophages, he moved to Paris and later escaped to the United States when Nazi German armies invaded France. In the US, Luria continued his research and collaborated with Delbrück and Hershey, leading to their Nobel Prize-winning work. Luria also became a naturalized American citizen and was known for his strong political activism, particularly against war and nuclear weapon testing.

Quick Facts

  • Italian Celebrities Born In August
  • Also Known As: Salvador Edward Luria
  • Died At Age: 78
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Zella Hurwitz
    • Father: Davide Luria
    • Mother: Ester (Sacerdote)
  • Biologists
  • Microbiologists
  • Died on: February 6, 1991
  • City: Turin, Italy
  • More Facts
  • Awards:
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1969)
    • Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1969)

Childhood & Early Life

Salvatore Edoardo Luria was born on August 13, 1912, in Turin, Italy. His parents, Ester (Sacerdote) and Davide Luria, came from an influential Italian Sephardi Jewish family. Luria attended the medical school at the University of Turin, where he became acquainted with two future Nobel laureates, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Renato Dulbecco. He graduated with an M.D. summa cum laude in 1935.


After completing his medical degree, Luria served as a medical officer in the Italian Army from 1936 to 1937. He then enrolled in radiology classes at the University of Rome, where he developed an interest in bacteriophages and conducted genetic theory experiments on them. In 1938, he received a fellowship to study in the United States. However, due to the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, which prohibited Jews from academic research fellowships, Luria left Italy for Paris, France. When Nazi German armies invaded France in 1940, Luria was forced to flee once again. Fortunately, he was able to obtain an immigration visa to the United States.

Upon arriving in the United States, Luria changed the spelling of his name to Salvador Edward Luria. He received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at Columbia University with the help of physicist Enrico Fermi, whom he was acquainted with. Luria conducted research with Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Vanderbilt University. He became a member of the American Phage Group, an informal scientific group dedicated to the study of viral self-replication. Luria and Delbrück formed a successful professional collaboration and performed the Luria-Delbrück experiment in 1943, which demonstrated that genetic mutations in bacteria arise in the absence of selection.

Luria served as an instructor, assistant professor, and associate professor of Bacteriology at Indiana University from 1943 to 1950. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1947. In 1950, he was appointed Professor of Microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the 1950s, Luria discovered that a culture of E. coli could significantly reduce the production of phages grown in other strains. He later took over the chair of Microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1959. During the later years of his career, he shifted his research focus to cell membranes and bacteriocins, discovering that bacteriocins impair the function of cell membranes by forming holes.

Luria was also a prominent political advocate throughout his career. He opposed nuclear weapon testing and was a detractor of the Vietnam War. His political activities led to him being blacklisted from receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health for a short time in 1969.

Major Works

Working with Max Delbrück, Luria made significant discoveries on the replication mechanism and genetic structure of viruses. They showed that bacterial resistance to viruses (phages) is genetically inherited and proved the existence of spontaneous phage mutants.

Awards & Achievements

Salvador E. Luria, along with Max Delbrück and Alfred D. Hershey, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for their discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and genetic structure of viruses. Luria and Delbrück were also jointly awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry in 1969. Luria received the National Medal of Science in 1991.

Personal Life & Legacy

Salvador E. Luria married Zella Hurwitz in 1945. His wife was a Professor of Psychology at Tufts University. They had one son, Daniel, who went on to become an economist. Luria passed away on February 6, 1991, at the age of 78 due to a heart attack.

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