In light of the rest of what is reported in the below obituary, query
whether the otherwise unexplained report below that when, after he
received the Nobel Prize, the deceased and her then husband moved to
Stanford Univ. "where she took an untenured research position" the
obituary writer may be not so subtly suggesting that the deceased was
not given the credit she had earned and maybe even ought have been a
New York Times - Dec. 8, 2006 - Obituaries
ESTHER LEDERBERG, 83, SCIENTIST WHO
IDENTIFIED STEALTHY VIRUS, DIES
Esther Lederberg, a microbiologist who identified a stealthy virus
that invades bacteria and hides within its DNA, often emerging later
to do its destructive work, died Nov. 11 in Stanford, Calif. She was
The cause was complications of congestive heart failure and pneumonia,
her family said.
Dr. Lederberg was also a central member of a team led by her husband,
Joshua Lederberg, who shared a Nobel Prize for genetic research in
In the early 1950s, while conducting experiments with E. coli
bacteria, Esther Lederberg discovered a previously unreported virus
that was infecting the bacteria but doing no immediate harm to the
host organism. She found that the virus, which she named the lambda
phage, was being transmitted through bacterial matings and ordinary
genetic material. It would then remain dormant or, under certain
circumstances, awaken to destroy the host.
Her findings helped explain how phages pass between generations of
bacteria. Her research also served as a model to help unlock the
mechanism of genetic inheritance in more complex viruses.
Working with her husband and others, Dr. Lederberg subsequently
developed a successful method of rapidly transferring colonies of
bacteria from one glass plate to another. Their method called for a
velvet cloth to be placed over the colonies and then pressed onto a
second plate treated with an antibiotic or a virus. The technique,
called replica plating, is still in use and enables researchers to
isolate bacteria that are resistant to compounds on the plates.
For work in bacterial genetics, Joshua Lederberg shared the Nobel
Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 with two other researchers,
George W. Beadle and Edward L. Tatum. The next year, he and his wife
moved to Stanford University, where she took an untenured research
position. They divorced in 1966.
>From 1978 to 1990, Joshua Lederberg was president of the Rockefeller
University, the biomedical research institution in New York.
Yesterday, President Bush announced that he was a recipient of the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations highest civilian award.
In the 1970s and 80s, Esther Lederberg assumed a curatorial role at
Stanford and directed its Plasmid Reference Center, a collection of
DNA molecules derived mainly from bacteria. She retired in 1985 but
continued to volunteer at the plasmid center.
Esther Miriam Zimmer was born in the Bronx. She attended Hunter
College and received a masters degree from Stanford. In 1950, she
earned her doctorate in bacterial genetics from the University of
Dr. Lederberg is survived by her husband of 13 years, Matthew Simon.
The couple lived in Stanford. She is also survived by a brother,
Benjamin Zimmer of the Bronx.