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Esther Lederberg

Esther Miriam Lederberg
BornDecember 18 1922(1922-12-18)
DiedNovember 11 2006 (aged 83)
Microbial Genetics
InstitutionsStanford University
Known forLambda phage

Esther Miriam Lederberg (December 18, 1922 - November 11 2006) was an American microbiologist and immunologist and pioneer of bacterial genetics.


Esther Miriam Zimmer was born in the Bronx and she had a brother, Benjamin Zimmer. She received an A.B. at Hunter College in New York City in 1942, and then studied genetics at Stanford University; she received a master's in 1946 from Stanford. She completed her doctorate in 1950 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lederberg discovered lambda phage, publishing in 1950 Microbial Genetics Bulletin.[1] The lambda phage virus is a widely used tool that enables the study of genetic recombination and gene regulation.

Lederberg is also famous for research done in collaboration with her then-husband Joshua Lederberg on bacterial genetics, developing the replica plating technology.

These two contributions laid the foundation for much of the genetics work done in the latter half of the twentieth century. Stanley Falkow said of Lederberg that "Experimentally and methodologically she was a genius in the lab."[2]

Although Lederberg was a pioneer scientist, recognized for her own contributions as well as contributions made in collaboration with Joshua Lederberg and other scientists, she faced significant challenges as a woman scientist in the 1950s. For instance, in order to gain a position on the Stanford faculty, she had to offer to start in an untenured slot, for which she was manifestly overqualified.[3]

Lederberg directed the Plasmid Reference Center at Stanford's medical school from 1976 to 1986. She retired from her position in the Stanford Department of Microbiology and Immunology in 1985.

In addition to science, Lederberg both studied and practiced Early Music. She was particularly devoted to the recorder and founded the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra in 1962.

She married Joshua Lederberg (1958 Nobelist) in 1946; they divorced in 1966. She married Matthew Simon in 1993.

Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg died November 11, 2006, from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, at the age of 83.

Notable papers

  • Esther Lederberg, "Lysogenicity in Eescherichia coli strain K-12, Microbial Genetics Bulletin, v.1, pp. 5-8 (Jan. 1950); followed by "Lysogenicity in E. coli K-12", Genetics, v.36, p. 560 (1951) (abstract). Papers available online at


  • Obituary, Jewish Chronicle, Jan 19, 2007 p.45
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Esther_Lederberg". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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