Who is Severo Ochoa?

Severo Ochoa

(1905-1993)

Nobel-prize winning biochemist Severo Ochoa spent his life studying the basic chem¬ istry of living organisms. His research revolu¬ tionized the science of genetics and aided the search for a cure for cancer. Born in the small fishing town of Luarca in northern Spain, Ochoa received his B.A. from Malaga College in 1921.

In 1929, he earned his medical degree from the University of Madrid, but he never became a practicing physician. Instead, he focused on organic chemistry, which was his passion. Before he finished his medical studies, Ochoa worked as a research assistant in physi¬ ology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

After he received his degree, he spent two years in Germany, at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology and the University of Heidelberg’s Institute for Medical Research. In 1931, he returned to the University of Madrid School of Medicine as a lecturer and head of the physiol¬ ogy department.

In the late 1930s, he taught and did research for two years at the Oxford University Medical School in England.In 1940, after the end of the Spanish Civil War and the rise to power of General Francisco Franco and the Falange (Fascist) party, Ochoa decided not to return to Spain. Instead, he moved to the United States, and he eventually became a U.S. citizen in 1956.

In the United States, Ochoa first worked as a lecturer and researcher at the medical school of Washington University in St. Louis. He later conducted research at the New York University Bellevue Medical Center. While in New York, Ochoa continued tfie research on enzymes he had begun in Europe.

He advanced theories that these chemicals in plant and animal tissue allow living organ¬ isms to convert food into energy, in the process known as metabolism. Later, he applied his research in this field to the study of DNA, which is the genetic code for all liv¬ ing organisms. He announced a discovery about the basic chemicals that allow cells to produce nucleic acids, or protein.

Ochoa’s discoveries helped scientists understand how certain diseases are spread, especially cancer, which involves abnormal cell reproduction. His findings also advanced the field of genetic engineering, which was then in its infancy.

For their work in this field, Ochoa and his colleague, Dr. Arthur Kornberg, were award¬ ed the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1959. It was one of many honors Ochoa received throughout his career. After the death of his wife, Carmen, Ochoa returned to Spain in 1985. He died there in 1993.