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Esther Lederberg, Pioneer of Bacterial Genetics

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“She did pioneering work in genetics, but it was her husband who won a Nobel price.” So said an obituary in the British newspaper The Guardian regarding Esther Lederberg, a North American microbiologist married to Joshua Lederberg from 1946 to 1966 [8]. Being married to and working along such a phenomenal scientist was not only greatly stimulating, it was also a major handicap. As long as she was Mrs. Lederberg, the success of their joint work was attributed to her husband. At 31, Joshua was already a full professor whereas Esther, who was two years older, remained an associate investigator. In an interview that followed his 1953 Eli Lilly award in Bacteriology, Joshua affirmed that this prize should have been shared with his wife. Despite that, on the occasion of his Nobel Prize, Joshua did not mentioned Esther in either of his speeches, when he received the award and during the gala dinner.

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