René Dubos

René Jules Dubos
Born 20 February 1901(1901-02-20)
Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France[1]
Died 20 February 1982(1982-02-20) (aged 81)
New York, New York, U.S.
Nationality French-born naturalized American
Fields Microbiology
Institutions The Rockefeller University (formerly The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research)
Alma mater Rutgers University
Known for Isolation and first successful testing of natural antibiotics
Coining the phrase "Think globally, act locally"
Notable awards Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research 1948
Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction 1969

René Jules Dubos (February 20, 1901 – February 20, 1982) was a French-born American microbiologist, experimental pathologist, environmentalist, humanist, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book So Human An Animal.[2] He is credited as an author of a maxim "Think globally, act locally". He devoted most of his professional life to the empirical study of microbial diseases and to the analysis of the environmental and social factors that affect the welfare of humans. His pioneering research in isolating antibacterial substances from certain soil microorganisms led to the discovery of major antibiotics. He performed groundbreaking research and wrote extensively on a number of subjects, including: tuberculosis, pneumonia, and the mechanisms of acquired immunity, natural susceptibility, and resistance to infection. Aside from a period from 1942 to 1944 when he was George Fabyan Professor of Comparative Pathology and professor of tropical medicine at the Schools of Medicine and Public Health at Harvard University, his scientific career was spent at The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, later renamed The Rockefeller University.

In later years, Dubos explored the interplay of environmental forces and the physical, mental and spiritual development of mankind. The main tenets of his humanistic philosophy were: global problems are conditioned by local circumstances and choices, social evolution enables us to rethink human actions and change direction to promote an ecologically balanced environment, the future is optimistic since human life and nature are resilient and we have become increasingly aware of the dangers inherent in natural forces and human activities, and we can benefit from our successes and apply the lessons learned to solving other contemporary environmental problems.

René Dubos is an author of a popular maxim "Think Globally, Act Locally" that refers to the argument that global environmental problems can turn into action only by considering ecological, economic, and cultural differences of our local surroundings. This motto appeared for the first time in 1978, six years after Dubos served as advisor to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment[3]. In 1979, Dubos suggested that ecological consciousness should begin at home. He believed that there needed to be a creation of a World Order in which "natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications". In the 1980s, Dubos held to his thoughts on acting locally, and felt that issues involving the environment must be dealt with in their "unique physical, climatic, and cultural contexts." Dubos’ approach to building a resilient and constructive relationship between people and the Earth continues to resonate[4].

For the academic years 1963-1964 and 1964-1965, he was a Fellow on the faculty at the Center for Advanced Studies of Wesleyan University.[5] He served as chairman of the trustees of the René Dubos Center for Human Environment, a non-profit education and research organization, which was dedicated in his honor in 1980. The mission of the Center which was co-founded by William and Ruth Eblen is to “assist the general public and decision-makers in formulating policies for the resolution of environmental problems and the creation of environmental values.” Dubos remained actively involved in the programs of the Centre and activities until his death in 1982. He also served on the board of trustees of Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1949-1952.


Early Life and Career

Dubos was born in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France, on February 20, 1901, and grew up in Hénonville, another small Île-de-France farming village north of Paris. His parents operated butcher shops in each of these villages[6]. He attended high school and the National Institute of Agronomy in Paris, and he received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1927[7]. Dubos began his career in microbiology in 1927, when he joined Oswald T. Avery's laboratory at The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Avery was looking for a microbe that could break down the polysaccharide capsule of a deadly strain of bacterial pneumonia, in the same way that soil bacteria digested decaying organic matter in the woods. Dubos identified a bacterium that secreted an enzyme that broke down polysaccharide[8]. In 1939, with the help of Rockefeller Institute biochemist Rollin Hotchkiss, Dubos isolated the antibacterial agents tyrothricin and gramicidin from the bacterium Bacillus brevis that killed or inhibited Gram-positive bacteria and they tested their bacterial, chemical, and clinical properties. These antibiotics remain in limited use today. In 1942, before antibiotics were in general use, Dubos warned that bacterial resistance should be expected[9].

In 1948, Dubos shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, with Selman Waksman, for "their achievement in studies of the antibiotic properties of soil bacteria."[10] A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he served as an editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine from 1946 to 1972.


  • In 1998, the René Dubos Center for Human Environments donated a large portion of its environmental library and archives to Pace University. The collection consists of works by Dubos as well as those of other leading environmental scholars, some of which have been annotated by Dubos himself. According to Robert Chapman, Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Pace’s Environmental Studies Program, “Pace now has many of Dubos’ own research books from the Rockefeller University and this means that we can not only look at his writing, but we can also do an analysis of where his ideas come from and what influenced him.”
  • In 1979, the René Dubos Center purchased 30 acres (120,000 m2) of land in North Castle, New York with donations from two foundations. As a condition of the purchase it agreed to keep the property in a natural state. Nevertheless, in 2002 it attempted to sell the land to developer Michael Cappelli, who planned to develop luxury homes there. The Center filed legal action in 2007 to attempt to complete this transaction; however, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo opposed the move, and the State Supreme Court ruled against the Center in that year. In 2009, the controversy was resolved when the Center agreed to sell the land to the village of Mount Kisco, New York[11].


  • The Bacterial Cell in its Relation to Problems of Virulence, Immunity and Chemotherapy, 1945, Harvard University Press
  • Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science, 1950, 1960, Charles Scribner's Sons, Da Capo Press 1986 reprint of 1960 edition: ISBN 0306802627
  • The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man, and Society, 1952, Little, Brown, and Company, Rutgers University Press 1987: ISBN 0813512247
  • Biochemical Determinants of Microbial Diseases, 1954, Harvard University Press
  • Man, Medicine, and Environment, 1968, Praeger
  • Mirage of Health: Utopias, Progress & Biological Change, 1959, Rutgers University Press 1987: ISBN 0813512603
  • Pasteur and Modern Science, 1960, Anchor Books, American Society of Microbiology edition with new chapter by Thomas D. Brock, 1998: ISBN 1555811442
  • The Dreams of Reason: Science and Utopias, 1961 George B. Pegram lectures, Columbia University Press
  • The Unseen World, 1962, The Rockefeller Institute Press
  • The Torch of Life: Continuity in Living Experience, 1962, Simon and Schuster, Touchstone 1970 reprint: ISBN 0671204696
  • Man Adapting, 1966, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300004370, enlarged edition 1980: ISBN 0300025815
  • So Human an Animal: How We Are Shaped by Surroundings and Events, 1968, Scribner Book Company, Transaction Publishers 1998 edition: ISBN 0765804298 (won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction)
  • Reason Awake, 1970, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231031815
  • Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, 1972, coauthored with Barbara Ward and United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, W W Norton & Co, ISBN 0393063917
  • A God Within, 1973, Scribner, ISBN 068413506X
  • Of Human Diversity, 1974, Clark University Press, ISBN 0914206249
  • Beast or Angel: Choices That Make Us Human, 1974, Scribner, hardcover: ISBN 0684176084, paperback 1984: ISBN 0684144360
  • The Professor, the Institute, and DNA: Oswald T. Avery, His Life and Scientific Achievements, 1976, Paul & Company, ISBN 0874700221
  • The Wooing of Earth, 1980, Scribner, ISBN 0684165015
  • Quest: Reflections on Medicine, Science, and Humanity, 1980, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, ISBN 0151757054
  • Celebrations of Life, 1981, McGraw Hill, ISBN 0070178933
  • The World of Rene Dubos: A Collection from His Writings, 1990, Henry Holt & Co, ISBN 0805013601

As Editor

  • LIFE Science Library, including authorship of one of its 26 volumes: Health and Disease (1965), with Maya Pines

Collected papers

The collected papers of Dubos from 1927–1982 including correspondence, lecture notes, book and article drafts, laboratory notebooks, photographs, audio and video cassettes, and films, are stored at the Rockefeller Archive Center.


  • Carol L. Moberg, René Dubos, Friend of the Good Earth: Microbiologist, Medical Scientist, Environmentalist, 2005. ASM Press, ISBN 1555813402
  • Frank Ryan, M.D., The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis Was Won and Lost, 1992, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 0-316-76380-2 includes chapter on Dubos, puts his work in context of fight against TB.

Awards and honors

Recipient of the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Rene Dubos — René Dubos Pour les articles homonymes, voir Dubos. René Dubos René Dubos, né à Saint Brice sous Forêt le 20 février …   Wikipédia en Français

  • René Dubos — René Jules Dubos (* 20. Februar 1901 in Saint Brice sous Forêt, Frankreich; † 20. Februar 1982 in New York City) war ein französisch US amerikanischer Mediziner (Pathologie), Mikrobiologe, Umweltaktivist und Autor. René Dubos …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • René Dubos — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Dubos. René Dubos René Dubos, né à Saint Brice sous Forêt le 20 février 1901 et mort à New York …   Wikipédia en Français

  • René J. Dubos — René Dubos Pour les articles homonymes, voir Dubos. René Dubos René Dubos, né à Saint Brice sous Forêt le 20 février …   Wikipédia en Français

  • René Dubost — René Dubos Pour les articles homonymes, voir Dubos. René Dubos René Dubos, né à Saint Brice sous Forêt le 20 février …   Wikipédia en Français

  • DUBOS (R.) — DUBOS RENÉ (1901 1982) Médecin et biologiste américain d’origine française. Né près de Paris, à Saint Brice, René Dubos suit les cours du lycée Chaptal puis entre à l’Institut national agronomique de Paris. Après son diplôme, il est assistant à… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Dubos — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Jean Baptiste Dubos (1670–1742), französischer Theologe, Ästhetiker und Historiker A. Dubos, Teilnehmer bei den Olympischen Sommerspielen 1900 in der 10 T Klasse beim Segeln J. Dubos, Teilnehmer bei den… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • René — (born again, or reborn, in French) is a very common given name in French speaking countries. It comes from the Latin name Renatus. René is normally, originally only a masculine name (Renée being the feminine form). But in non Francophone… …   Wikipedia

  • Dubos — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Patronymie Alain Dubos, écrivain français ; Constant Dubos (1768 1845), écrivain français ; Danie Dubos, coloriste et scénariste de bande… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • René — (as used in expressions) Chateaubriand François Auguste René viscount of Chirac Jacques René Chouteau René Auguste Clair René René Lucien Chomette Descartes René Dubos René Jules Haüy René Just Hébert Jacques René La Salle René Robert Cavelier… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.