André Lwoff was a one of the pioneers of molecular biology. In 1965 he received, together with Jacques Monod and François Jacob, the Nobel Prize (medicine and physiology) for the important contributions he made to fundamental virology and for his discoveries of roles of vitamins.
André Lwoff was born on 8 May 1902, in Ainay-le- Château, into a family originally from Russia. Like his father, who was a doctor (psychiatrist), he first studied medicine. But he soon started to be interested by research in physiology. He began his scientific career in Roscoff (western Brittany) under the supervision of Edouard Chatton, a famous French protozoologist. Two years later, in 1922, he joined the laboratory of Felix Mesnil at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He obtained his M.D. in 1927 and his Ph.D. in biology in 1932. He then started postdoctoral research work in the field of cellular metabolism in several foreign laboratories – in Heidelberg and at the Molteno Institute in Cambridge, a renowned centre for cellular biochemistry.
In 1938, he was appointed Head of the newly created Department of Microbiological Physiology at the Pasteur Institute. During the Second World War, his laboratory was a centre for the French Resistance. JacquesMonod joined him there, becoming head of the microbial physiology laboratory in André Lwoff's department after the war.
André Lwoff's lab at the Pasteur Institute (surnamed "the attic") rapidly became one of the world centres for modern biology research. The work of André Lwoff at this time focused on basic research of viral development through the study of bacteriophages and their capacity to genetically modify bacteria.
André Lwoff was not only a brilliant scientist, member of numerous academies, both French and foreign, professor of microbiology at the Faculty of Sciences in Paris, Research Director of CNRS, director for 4 years of the Institute for Scientific Research on Cancer (IRSC) in Villejuif, the institute that carries his name today. He was also a man, deeply involved in the defence of democracy. He cared about sharing the results of scientific research with everyone. His humanistic involvement was evidenced amongst others by his support of the French "Family Planning" organization that he chaired as its first president.
André Lwoff died in Paris on 30 September 1994 at the age of 92. During a commemoration in 2002, François Jacob recalled that André Lwoff was also a talented painter. "He practiced science as an artist: above all, he was an artist. A whole era of 'Pastorian' science and French research disappeared together with him."