Luria, Salvador E


Italian‐born American physician Salvador E. Luria (1912–1991) was one of the founding fathers of bacterial genetics and molecular biology. Trained at the laboratory of the distinguished histologist Giuseppe Levi at the University of Turin and then in Rome with the school of physics Enrico Fermi, Luria was forced by the racial laws to emigrate to the United States. In 1943, together with the émigré German physicist Max Delbrück, he elaborated the ‘fluctuation test’ showing that the adaptive mechanisms of bacteria to virus (bacteriophages) attacks were attributable to the Darwinian principle of natural selection. For these pioneering research, and for founding the ‘phage group’, a sort of Mecca of the first molecular biologists, he obtained in 1969 the Nobel Prize for medicine. Politically engaged, Luria conduced in open contrast with American governments various battles for civil rights and pacifism.

Keywords: bacterial genetics; phage group; Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory; molecular biology

Figure 1. Max Delbrück and Salvador E. Luria (sitting) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1941. Courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Archives.
Figure 2. Salvador E. Luria teaching at MIT ca. 1970s. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Museum.


Bucciante L and Luria S (1933) Probabile significato delle fibre muscolari a fibrille attorte ed anulari nell'uomo. Archivio Italiano di Anatomia e di Embriologia 31: 312–321.

Delbrück M and Luria SE (1942) Interference between bacterial viruses. I. Interference between two bacterial viruses acting upon the same host, and the mechanism of virus growth. Archives of Biochemistry 1: 111–141.

Hershey AD, Delbruck M and Doermann AH, Luria SE (1946) Second Revision: Proposal on Nomenclature, March 14 1946. Salvador Luria Papers, American Philosophical Society, Series III box 46.

Holweck F, Luria S and Wollman E (1940) Recherches sur le mode d'action des radiations sur les bacteriophages. Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences 210: 639–642.

Luria S, Wollman E and Holweck F (1940) Effect of radiations on bacteriophage C16. Nature 145: 935–936.

Luria S (1940) Méthodes statistiques appliquées à l'étude du mode d'action des ultravirus. Annales de l'Institut Pasteur 64: 415–438.

Luria S (1935a) La grandezza delle cellule nervose in animali ad accrescimento artificialmente arrestato. Zeitschrift für Zellforschung und mikroskopische Anatomie 22: 724–734.

Luria S (1935b) Ricerche sperimentali sulla correlazione tra accrescimento del soma e accrescimento delle cellule nervose. Tesi di Laurea del 17 luglio 1935; A.A. 1934/35. Archivio storico dell'Università di Torino, Fondo Tesi.

Luria S (1938) Le dosi profonde e le curve di isodose nella terapia Roentgen ad altissima tensione. Tesi di diploma della Scuola di perfezionamento in Radiologia della Regia Università di Roma, 4 Luglio 1938. Salvador Luria Papers, American Philosophical Society, Series III, Box 43.

Luria S (1939) Sur l'unité lytique du bactériophage. Comptes rendus des séances de la Societé de biologie et de ses filiales 130: 904–907.

Luria SE and Exner FM (1941) The inactivation of bacteriophages by X‐rays‐influence of the medium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 27: 370–375.

Luria SE and Delbrück M (1942) Interference between bacterial viruses. II. Interference between inactivated bacterial virus and active virus of the same strain and of a different strain. Archives of Biochemistry 2: 207–218.

Luria SE and Delbrück M (1943) Mutations of bacteria from virus sensitivity to virus resistance. Genetics 28: 491–511.

Luria SE (1947a) Reactivation of irradiated bacteriophage by transfer of self‐reproducing units. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 33: 253–264.

Luria SE (1947b) Recent advances in bacterial genetics. Bacteriological Review 11: 1–40.

Luria SE and Human ML (1952) A nonhereditary, host‐induced variation of bacterial viruses. Journal of Bacteriology 64: 557–569.

Luria SE (1953a) Host‐induced modifications of viruses. Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology 18: 237–244.

Luria SE (1953b) General Virology. New York and London: Wiley and Chapman & Hall.

Luria SE (1964) On the mechanisms of action of colicins. Annales de l'Institut Pasteur 107: 67–73.

Luria SE (1969) Modern biology: a terrifying power. The Nation October 20: 405–409.

Luria SE (1970) Phage, colicins, and macroregulatory phenomena. Science 168: 1166–1170.

Luria SE (1972) Slippery when wet. Being an essay on science, technology, and responsibility. Penrose Memorial Lecture. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116: 351–356.

Luria SE (1973) Life. The Unfinished Experiment. New York: Scribner.

Luria SE (1975) 36 Lectures in Biology. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Luria SE (1976) Biological aspects of ethical principles. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 1: 332–336.

Luria SE (1977) Reflections on democracy, science, and cancer. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 30: 20–32.

Luria SE and Gould SJ (1981) A View of Life. Menlo Park (CA): Benjamin/Cummings Pub. Co.

Luria SE (1984) A Slot Machine, a Broken Test Tube. An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row.

Further Reading

Abir‐Am P (2000) The Rockefeller Foundation and refugee biologists: The European and American careers of leading RF grantees from England, France, Germany, and Italy. In: Gemelli G, (ed). The “unacceptables”: American Foundations and Refugee Scholars Between the Two Wars and After, pp. 217–240. Brussels‐New York: P.I.E.‐P. Lang.

Brock TD (1990) The Emergence of Bacterial Genetics. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Cairns J, Delbrück M, Stent GS and Watson JD (1966) Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology. New York: Cold Spring Harbor.

Fermi L (1968) Illustrious Immigrants. The Intellectual Migration from Europe, 1930–41. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Grignolio A (2013) Salvador E. Luria. In: Il Contributo italiano alla storia del Pensiero ‐ Scienze, VIII App., pp. 736–741. New Roma: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani.

Judson HF (1979) The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Levi Montalcini R (1987) Elogio dell'imperfezione. Milano: Garzanti (ed. or. 1988, In Praise of Imperfection. New York: Basic Books).

Morange M (1994) Histoire de la biologie moléculaire. Paris: Editions La Découverte (eng. transl. 1998, A History of Molecular Biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Selya RE (2002) Salvador Luria's Unfinished Experiment: The Public Life of a Biologist in a Cold War Democracy. Ph.D. Thesis, Harvard University, History of Science Department Cambridge, MA, USA.

Skipper HE (1983) The forty‐year‐old mutation theory of Luria and Delbruck and its pertinence to cancer chemotherapy. Advances in Cancer Research 40: 331–363.

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Grignolio, Andrea(Apr 2015) Luria, Salvador E. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002866]