Marguerite Vogt, just a wonderful person

Marguerite Vogt (February 13, 1913 – July 6, 2007), cancer biologist and virologist (1938).
A list of women scientists who have been denied the Nobel Prize would take too long to complete.

It is certainly the case over the past time, and we hope that these kind of lists will no longer be needed in future.

I’m happy not to have been bothered,” Marguerite Vogt said to Natalie Angier, New York Times, in 2001,   ”when you get too famous, you stop being able to work.

Marguerite Vogt never received a major prize, and not even gained the membership of the National Academy of Sciences.

This story was not new to her: her mother Cécile Mugnier Vogt was the first woman nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1922 (never awarded).  

Marguerite Vogt published her first scientific paper when she was 14 years old.

She and her sister, Marthe, grew up in the most innovative scientific laboratory of their time and were trained to be scientists by their parents.

In 1950 she moved to the United States, at Calthech, the California Institute of Technology’s virology lab in Pasadena, and she brought along only her grand piano.

She was a scientist, a musician, and a competitive athlete.

Vogt “was just this unusual person, just so passionate about science, and enthusiastic” said Lee Hartwell to Ivan Oransky in 2007.

At Caltech, in the summer of 1952, Marguerite Vogt began a long-standing collaboration with the molecular biologist Renato Dulbecco. They continued their work  at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California from 1963 to 1972.

Through their work with living pathogenic viruses, Vogt and Dulbecco founded the field of molecular virology.

She conducted the work  in an isolated basement lab because there were risks: ”I didn’t tell my parents that I was working with polio virus”.

The results found immediate practical application in the development of a polio vaccine.

Later, the two researchers explored how a type of mammalian tumor virus called the polyoma virus transforms ordinary cells into cancer cells, research that lifted the study of cancer biology from a mere cataloging of the gross anatomy of a tumor cell to an exploration of the genetic mutations that underlie the disease”, Angier reported.

When I started with the polyomavirus, we needed an assay method for the virus”, Dulbecco said to Oransky “The virus can do two things – kill cells and transform them. The killing effect could be easily assayed. What was difficult was assaying the transforming effect. In general we used mouse cells, but these are killed. Marguerite found that if we used hamster cells, they are not killed, but are transformed.

In 1975 Dulbecco shared the Nobel Prize with David Baltimore and Howard Martin Temin “for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell.”

There was no mention for Marguerite Vogt.

In his Nobel Lecture , Renato Dulbecco acknowledged the assistance of many researchers but forgot the name of Marguerite Vogt, in spite of including five of their joint publications in the reference section.

Her name can be found in the Autobiographical section  :

and Marguerite Vogt contributed to my knowledge of animal cell cultures”,

thus her contribution seems nothing more than a technical assistance.

Dulbecco received many awards for their joint work, but it was at Vogt’s death that he remebered her as “a wonderful worker and a wonderful person“, without ever acknowledging her merit in his own achievements.

There have to be many more of us around,” Vogt said referring to women in science. ”Maybe then it will be hard to ignore us.

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  1. Pingback: Claire Vogt: A forgotten talented daughter – WiNEu

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