Last Saturday the biochemist Christian de Duve died in his home in Nethen, Belgium. His health had deteriorated and a few weeks ago he decided to request euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium.
Christian René de Duve was born on October 2, 1917 in Thames Ditton, Surrey, England. His family had fled from Belgium during World War I and returned to their home country in 1920.
Christian de Duve studied at the Catholic University of Leuven, where he specialized in subcellular biochemistry and cell biology. During World War II he served as a medical doctor in the Belgian army. In 1962 he became a professor at Rockefeller University in New York City, dividing his time between it and Leuven.
Christian de Duve research led to the discovery of the hormone glucagon and to lysosomes and peroxisomes, two types of cell organelles. Over time, his discoveries allowed sheding light on the mechanisms of various genetic diseases. In some cases cures were already found, in other the research continues.
The work of Christian de Duve has also contributed to the emerging consensus around the endosymbiotic theory, which states that today’s eukaryotic cells have been originated from a symbiosis between various biological organisms such as mitochondria, the chloroplasts and other organelles.
In 1974, Christian de Duve received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine together with Albert Claude and George E. Palade for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.
Christian de Duve has also published several scientific essays such as “Vital Dust” in 1996, a compendium of the history of life on Earth, “Life Evolving . Molecules, Mind, and Meaning” in 2002, which summarizes our knowledge about evolution, and “Singularities: Landmarks on the Pathways of Life” in 2005, which includes an attempt to reconstruct the possible processes of prebiotic evolution, the one that led to the birth of the first life form.
Various health problems, including a form of cancer, convinced Christian de Duve to request euthanasia in order to die with dignity before losing his clarity of mind and become a burden. He leaves two sons, two daughters, seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a great scientific legacy.