Christian of Duve

Christian René Marie Joseph, Vicomte de Duve , born onAt Thames-Ditton in England and died on1 in Nethen , Belgium , is a Belgian medical doctor and biochemist who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974 . The life of Christian de Duve, his work and his passion have been the subject of a documentary made in 2012 by Aurélie Wijnants 2 .


Born October 2, 1917 of the union between Alphonse de Duve (1883-1961) and Madeleine Pungs (1884-1977) in a family of Antwerp where his father is a businessman and where his paternal grandfather was notary, His family is Catholic (his Lutheran mother converted to his marriage) but he has many relatives in Germany with whom he will keep contact. He was born during the temporary exile of his parents in the United Kingdom at the time of the First World War . His family returned to Belgium in 1920, and as a teenager he was already quadrilingual, and imbued with multiculturalism : French, Flemish and Anglo-Saxon. It is with humor that he mentions that he began at the age of ten years to write the account of his life beginning with these words “I was born of a modest family …” 3 since, in reality, his family belonged to the nobility (the particle of results from the conversion of von Duve in de Duve in 1858 by decree of King Leopold I st 4 ) and was part of the Antwerp good company.

In 1943, he married Janine Herman. Widely affected by cancer and cardiac arrhythmia since 2008, his health had rapidly deteriorated in April 2013 after a fall and he felt the time had come to die. He had announced his euthanasia in the press for the month of May 2013 5 .

Christian de Duve died on May 4, 2013 in his home in Nethen . A moving ceremony in his honor was celebrated on June 8, 2013 by his friend Abbé Gabriel Ringlet , former vice-rector of the Catholic University of Louvain , in the church of Blocry in Ottignies , where he read for this “grand humanist imbued with great spirituality, “a text of the Gospel of Saint John 6 ,” No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends ” 7 .

When he died, he left four children ( Thierry (1944), Anne (1946), Françoise (1951) and Alain (1953).


He graduated in medicine from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in 1941 and in Chemistry (UCL) in 1946 , and simultaneously pursued a career as a professor and researcher at UCL and at Rockefeller University in New York . Trained with Joseph Prosper Bouckaert , he continued his studies in the laboratories of the couple Carl Ferdinand Cori and Gerty Theresa Cori , of Hugo Theorell , and Earl Wilbur Sutherland, Jr. , all honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947, 1955 And 1971, respectively.

Scientific career

Perfecting the techniques of separation of the cellular constituents by centrifugation developed by Albert Claude to carry out his research on the cellular structures, these opened new avenues in biochemistry and genetics . He is credited with the co-location of cell biology, combining for the first time biochemical and morphological knowledge in the same research field.

He is rewarded for his discoveries, especially when first described the lysosome in 1955 , and the peroxisome decade later 8 .

He shares in 1974 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Albert Claude and George Emil Palade to have highlighted how the cell can absorb, destroy or recycle good or bad substances without its operation would be damaged 9 .


In the same year of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, he was awarded the International Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pathologies ( ICP ), later renamed “Institut de Duve” in honor of researcher 10 , Campus of Louvain-en-Woluwe, Brussels 9 .

Humanist , he has signed with other winners of the Nobel Prize , a call for a delegation of the Child Rights Committee of the UN makes a visit to a Tibetan child under house arrest since 1995 in China, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima , recognized 11 th Panchen Lama by the 14 th Dalai Lama , Tenzin Gyatso .

The , During the so – called ” blue orange ” government crisis , Duve signed an open letter with several French – speaking and Dutch – speaking Belgian scientists asking the blue – orange negotiators to give up plans for certain Flemish formations to regionalize Belgian science policy . De Duve and his co-signatories wanted to maintain a “strong, coherent and integrated federal science policy” and demanded a “significant refinancing” of all activities in this sector.

For the past 30 years, Christian de Duve has written numerous books mainly for the general public. These books, mostly published in English and French, have enjoyed great success in bookshops.

Mélomane, he will participate in the release of a classical music box called “Music for Life” in 1992, with 30 tracks on 2CDs, the funding of which will be used to award scholarships to 3 researchers at ICP 11.

Looking to the future, visionary scored the scientific community of a considerable footprint, but mostly leaves a philosophical and human heritage uncommon 12 . He said he was worried about the future of humanity and the planet: “We exploit in an exaggerated way all the resources of the world. , If we do not do something ” 13 .

His granddaughter Aurelie Wijnants draws an intimate portrait of a man of many parts: soft grandfather illustrious scientist and philosopher to the universal dimension of passionate music 14 .

Awards and Honors

  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine , 1974, with Albert Claude and George Emil Palade .
  • Price Francqui , 1960

From the Belgian nobility, Christian de Duve was elevated to the rank of Viscount (personal title) by King Baudouin in 1989 15 .

Member of :

  • Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium (1969)
  • Royal Academy of Belgium since 1975
  • Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde van België
  • Pauselijke Academie voor Wetenschappen
  • National Academy of Sciences (VS)
  • Academy of Sciences (Paris)
  • Akademie der Naturforschung Leopoldina
  • European Academy of Sciences
  • Athens Academy of Sciences
  • A foreign member of the Royal Society in 1988 .
  • Academia Europae
  • Romanian Academy 9

The , During the Nobel Week, the University of Brussels (ULB) awarded him the badge of honorary doctor of the university.


  • ( In ) Christian de Duve ( ill. Neil O. Hardy) A guided tour of the living cell , vol.  1, New York, Scientific American Books, ( ISBN  9780716750024 )
  • ( In ) Christian de Duve ( ill. Neil O. Hardy) A guided tour of the living cell , vol.  2, New York, Scientific American Books, ( ISBN  9780716750062 )
  • Christian de Duve ( trad. Alain Amar-Costesec, ill. Neil O. Hardy), a guided tour of the living cell , New York, Scientific American Books,, XV-437, p. ( ISBN  9780716750062 )
  • Christian de Duve , Building a Cell: An Essay on the Nature and Origin of Life , Brussels, De Boeck-Wesmael ,, XII-353 p. ( ISBN  9782804114015 )
  • ( In ) Christian de Duve , Blueprint for a Cell: The Nature and Origin of Life , Burlington, Patterson,, 275 p. ( ISBN  9780892784103 )
  • ( In ) Christian de Duve , Vital Dust: Life as a cosmic imperative , New York, Basic Books,, XIX-362 p. ( ISBN  9780465090440 )
  • Christian de Duve ( trans. Anne Bucher, Jean-Mathieu Luccioni), Life Dust: A History of living , Paris, Fayard ,, 588 p. ( ISBN  9782213595603 )
  • Christian de Duve , Listening to the Living , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 401 p. ( ISBN  9782738111661 )
  • Oberflächen-Lexikon , Drw Verlag, 2003 ( ISBN  978-3871813382 )
  • Christian de Duve , Singularities: Milestones on the Paths of Life , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 296 p. ( ISBN  9782738116215 )
  • Science and quest for meaning , collective, Presses de la Renaissance, 2005 ( ISBN  978-2750901257 )
  • Christian de Duve , Genetics of original sin: The weight of the past on the future of life , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 237 p. ( ISBN  9782738122186 )
  • Christian de Duve , From Jesus to Jesus … through Darwin , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 91 p. ( ISBN  9782738126818 )
  • Christian de Duve , Seven lives in one – Memoirs of a Nobel Prize , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 336 p. ( ISBN  9782738128430 )
  • Christian de Duve and Jean Vandenhaute , On Science and Beyond , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 243 p. ( ISBN  9782738130525 )

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Christian de Duve has chosen the time of his death  [ archive ] , Le Soir
  2. ↑ Presentation of the documentary on Christian de Duve on Eurochannel  [ archive ]
  3. ↑ Interview par Aurélie Luneau dans l’émission La Marche des sciences sur France Culture, 28 mars 2013
  4. ↑ Christian de Duve , Seven Pounds in a – Memoirs of a Nobel Prize , Paris, Odile Jacob ,, 336 p. ( ISBN 9782738128430 ), P. 15
  5. ↑ Death: Christian de Duve leaves us facing huge challenges our  [ archive ] , Guy Duplat , La Libre Belgique Online, May 6, 2013
  6. ↑ John XV, 13.
  7. ↑ Ugo Guillet, in ‘Le Soir  “ . Gabriel Ringlet, last philosophical companion Christian de Duve, made this Saturday with the family of Nobel Prize last respects at the Church Of Blocry Ottignies More than 500 people were (…) In his homage, Gabriel Ringlet chose notably to read a text of the Gospel – of which he often spoke with Christian de Duve, he said – and in particular a text by Jean they had spoken to together A passage that evokes fraternity and “this Jesus before and after Darwin, that Jesus of friendship at the table” – who shares the bread and washes his friends’ feet – “which I know he was touching Many Christian de Duve who had so much pleasure in keeping open table. “In a message to the detractors of his ultimate gesture, the thought of the apostle Saint John seemed to be a posthumous response of Christian de Duve to the Church Catholic The message he gives about euthanasia is explicit: “No one has a greater love than one who divests himself of his life for those he loves.” Was not the Nobel Prize finally “A great humanist with a great spirituality? ” ” [1]  [ archive ] .
  8. ↑ Didier Devriese, ” The Doctors Honoris Causa of the University of Brussels 2010 – 1898DHC ULB , n o 175,, P.  12
  9. a , b and c Doctor Christian de Duve  [ archive ]
  10. ↑ [2]  [ archive ] online April 30, 2002
  11. ↑ [3]  [ archive ] Archive LeSoir 1992
  12. ↑ prof. Courtoy “Christian de Duve was a visionary”  [ archive ] , MB , online May 6, 2013
  13. ↑ [4]  [ archive ] [TeleBruxelles] 2013
  14. ↑ [ [archive] Aurélie Wijnants, Documentaire Eloge production 2012
  15. ↑ 90 years of the Belgian Nobel Prize in Medicine  [ archive ] , GC, La Libre Belgique online, 3 October 2007