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Christian René, burgrave de Duve (born 2 October 1917) is an internationally acclaimed cytologist and biochemist. De Duve was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, Great Britain, as a son of Belgian immigrants. They returned to Belgium in 1920. De Duve was educated by the Jesuits at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwecollege in Antwerp, before studying at the Catholic University of Leuven, where he became a professor in 1947. He specialized in subcellular biochemistry and cell biology and discovered peroxisomes and lysosomes, cell organelles.

In 1962 de Duve joined the faculty of what is now Rockefeller University in New York City, dividing his time between New York and Louven. He took emeritus status at Louven in 1985 and at Rockefeller in 1988, though he continued to conduct research.

Amongst other subjects, de Duve studied the distribution of enzymes in rat liver cells using rate-zonal centrifugation. De Duve's work on cell fractionation provided an insight into the function of cell structures.

In 1960, De Duve was awarded the Francqui Prize for Biological and Medical Sciences. He was awarded the shared Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974, together with Albert Claude and George E. Palade, for describing the structure and function of organelles (lysosomes and peroxisomes) in biological cells. His later years have been mostly devoted to origin of life studies, which he admits is still a speculative field (see thioester).

His work has contributed to the emerging consensus that the endosymbiotic theory is correct; this idea proposes that mitochondria, chloroplasts, and perhaps other organelles of eukaryotic cells originated as prokaryote endosymbionts, which came to live inside eukaryotic cells.

De Duve proposes that peroxisomes may have been the first endosymbionts, which allowed cells to withstand the growing amounts of free molecular oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Since peroxisomes have no DNA of their own, this proposal has much less evidence than the similar claims for mitochondria and chloroplasts.


  • A Guided Tour of the Living Cell (1984) ISBN 0-7167-5002-3
  • Blueprint For a Cell: The Nature and Origin of Life (1991) ISBN 0-89278-410-5
  • Vital Dust: Life As a Cosmic Imperative (1996) ISBN 0-465-09045-1
  • Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning (2002) ISBN 0-19-515605-6
  • Singularities: Landmarks on the Pathways of Life (2005) ISBN 978-0-521-84195-5

See also

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