European Academy of Sciences

Death of Professor Christian de Duve

The 4th of May 2013, Professor Christian de Duve, Honorary Member of EURASC and Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine passed away.

Christian de Duve was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, Great Britain, as a son of Belgian refugees. They returned to Belgium in 1920. Christian de Duve was educated by the Jesuits at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwecollege in Antwerp, before studying at the Catholic University of Leuven, where he became a professor in 1947. He specialized in subcellular biochemistry and cell biology and discovered peroxisomes and lysosomes, cell organelles.

In 1962 Christian de Duve joined the faculty of what is now Rockefeller University in New York City, dividing his time between New York and Leuven. He took emeritus status at Université catholique de Louvain in 1985 and at Rockefeller in 1988, though he continued to conduct research. Amongst other subjects, de Duve studied the distribution of enzymes in rat liver cells using rate-zonal centrifugation. Christian de Duve′s work on cell fractionation provided an insight into the function of cell structures.

In 1960, Christian de Duve was awarded the Francqui Prize for Biological and Medical Sciences. He was awarded the shared Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974, together with Albert Claude and George E. Palade, for describing the structure and function of organelles (lysosomes and peroxisomes) in biological cells. His later years have been mostly devoted to origin of life studies, which he admits is still a speculative field.

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.

Christian de Duve proposes 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.

He became Honorary Member of EURASC in 2007.

Click here to see the personal page of Prof. Christian de Duve.

If you want to know more about the life of Prof. de Duve in videos, please click on this link.