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Luis Federico Leloir

Luis Federico Leloir

An early photograph of Leloir in his twenties
BornSeptember 6 1906(1906-09-06)
Paris, France
DiedDecember 2 1987 (aged 81)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
ResidenceBuenos Aires, Argentina
Citizenship Argentina
InstitutionsUniversity of Buenos Aires
Washington University in St. Louis (1943-1944)
Columbia University (1944-1945)
Fundación Instituto Campomar (1947-1981)
University of Cambridge (1936-1943)
Alma materUniversity of Buenos Aires
Known forgalactosemia
lactose intolerance
carbohydrate metabolism
Notable prizes Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1970)
French Legion of Honor (1982)

Luis Federico Leloir (September 6,1906 – December 2, 1987) was an Argentine doctor and biochemist who received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Along with Mario Molina, he is one of the first two Hispanic scientists to ever receive the award. Although born in France, Leloir received the majority of his education at the University of Buenos Aires and was director of the private research group Fundación Instituto Campomar until his death in 1987. Although his laboratories were often plagued by lack of financial support and second-rate equipment, his research into sugar nucleotides, carbohydrate metabolism, and renal hypertension has garnered international attention and fame and has led to significant progress in understanding, diagnosing and treating the congenital disease galactosemia.



Early years

Leloir's parents, Federico and Hortensia Aguirre Leloir, traveled from Buenos Aires to Paris in the middle of 1906 with the intention of operating on Federico's illness. However, Federico died in late August, and a week later Luis was born in an old house at 81 Víctor Hugo Road in Paris, a few blocks away from the Arc de Triumph[1]. After returning to Argentina in 1908, Leloir lived together with his eight siblings on their family's extensive property El Tuyú that his grandparents had purchased after their immigration from the Basque Country of northern Spain. {El Tuyú comprises 400 km² of rocky land that along the coastline from San Clemente del Tuyú to Mar de Ajó which has since become a popular tourist attraction[2])

During his childhood, the future Nobel Prize winner found himself observing natural phenomenon with particular interest; his schoolwork and readings highlighted the connections between the natural sciences and biology. His education was divided between Escuela General San Martín(primary school), Colegio Lacordaire(secondary school), and for a few months at Beaumont College in England. His grades were unspectacular, and his first stint in college ended quickly when he abandoned his architectural studies that he had begun in Paris' École Polytechnique.[3]

It was during the 1920s that Leloir supposedly invented salsa golf (golf sauce). After being served prawns with the usual sauce during lunch with a group of friends at the Ocean Club in Mar del Plata, Leloir came up with a peculiar combination of ketchup and mayonnaise to spice up his meal. With the financial difficulties that later plagued Leloir's laboratories and research, he would joke, "If I had patented that sauce, we'd have a lot more money for research right now".[4]


Buenos Aires

  After returning again to Argentina, Leloir obtained his Argentine citizenship and joined the Department of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires in hopes of receiving his doctorate. However, he got off to a rocky start, requiring four attempts to pass his anatomy exam.[5] He finally received his diploma in 1932 and began his residency in the Hospital de Clínicas and his medical internship in Ramos Mejía hospital. After some initial conflicts with colleagues and complications in his method of treating patients, Leloir decided to dedicate himself to research in the laboratory, claiming that "we could do little for our patients... antibiotics, psychoactive drugs, and all the new therapeutic agents were unknown [at the time]"[1].

In 1933, he met Bernardo A. Houssay, who pointed Leloir towards investigating in his doctoral thesis the suprarenal glands and carbohydrate metabolism. Houssay happened to be friends with Carlos Bonorino Udaondo, the brother-in-law of Victoria Ocampo, one of Leloir's cousins. Following the recommendation of Udaondo, Leloir began working with Houssay, who in 1947 would later win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The two would develop a close relationship, collaborating on various projects until Houssay's death in 1971; in his lecture after winning the Nobel Prize, Leloir claimed that his "whole research career has been influenced by one person, Prof. Bernardo A. Houssay".[1][6]


After only two years, Leloir received recognition from the medical department at UBA for having produced the best doctoral thesis. Feeling that his knowledge in fields such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology was lacking, he continued attending classes at the University as a part-time student. In 1936 he traveled to England to begin advanced studies at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of another Nobel Prize winner, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, who had obtained that distinction in 1929 for his work in physiology and in revealing the critical role of vitamins in maintaining good health. Leloir's research in the Biochemical Laboratory of Cambridge centered around enzymes, more specifically the effects of cyanide and pyrophosphate on succinic dehydrogenase; from this moment Leloir began to specialize in researching carbohydrate metabolism.

United States

Leloir returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 after his brief stay at Cambridge. 1943 saw Leloir marry; Luis Leloir and Amelia Zuberbuhler would later have a daughter also named Amelia. However, his return to Argentina was amidst conflict and strife; Houssay had been expelled from the University of Buenos Aires for signing a public petition opposing the fascist Nazi regime in Germany and the military government led by Pedro Pablo Ramírez. Leloir fled to the United States, where he assumed the position of associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Washington University in St. Louis, collaborating with Carl Cori and Gerty Cori and thereafter worked with David E. Green at the College of Pysicians and Surgeons, Columbia University as a research assistant. Leloir would late credit Green with instilling within him the initiative to establish his own research group once back in Argentina[1].

Fundación Instituto Campomar

  In 1945 Leloir ended his exile and returned to Argentina to work under Houssay at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas de la Fundación Campomar, which Leloir would direct from its creation in 1947 by businessman and patron Jaime Campomar. Initially, the institute was composed of five rooms, a bathroom, central hall, patio, kitchen, and changing room.[7] During the final years of the 1940s, although lacking financial resources and operating with very low-cost teams, Leloir's successful experiments would reveal the chemical origins of sugar synthesis in yeast as well as the oxidation of fatty acids in the liver; together with J. M. Muñoz, he produce an active cell-free system, a first in scientific research. It had initially been assumed that in order to study a cell, scientists could not separate it from its host organism, as oxidation could only occur in intact cells.[8] Along the way, Muñoz and Leloir, unable to procure the costly centrifuge needed to separate cell contents, improvised by spinning a tire stuffed with salt and ice.[9]

By 1947 he had formed a team that included Rawell Caputo, Enrico Cabib, Raúl Trucco, Alejandro Paladini, Carlos Cardini y José Luis Reissig, with whom he investigated and discovered why a malfunctioning kidney and angiotensin helped cause hypertension.[10] That same year, his colleague Rawell Caputo, in his investigations of the mammary gland, made discoveries regarding carbohydrate storage and its subsequent transformation into a reserve energy form in organisms.

  At the beginning of 1948, Leloir and his team identified the sugar nucleotides that were fundamental to the metabolism of carbohydrates, turning the Instituo Campomar into a biochemistry institution well-known throughout the world. Immediately thereafter, Leloir received the Argentine Scientific Society Prize, one of the many awards he would receive both in Argentina and internationally. During this time, his team dedicated itself to the study of glycoproteins; Leloir and his colleagues elucidated the primary mechanisms of galactose metabolism (now coined the Leloir pathway[11]) and determined the cause of galactosemia, a serious genetic disorder that resulted in lactose intolerance.

The following year, he reached an agreement with Roland Garcia, dean of the Department of Natural Sciences at UBA, which named Leloir, Carlos Eugenio Cardini and Enrico Cabib as titular professors in the University's newly founded Biochemical Institute. The Institute would help develop scientific programs in budding Argentinian universities as well as attract researchers and scholars from the United States, Japan, England, France, Spain, and other Latin American countries.

Following Campomar's death in 1957, Leloir and his team applied to the National Institutes of Health in the United States desperate for funding, and surprisingly was accepted. In 1958, the Institute found a new home in a former all-girls school, a donation from the Argentine government. As Leloir and his research gained greater prominence, further research came from the Argentine Research Council, and the Institute would later become associated with the University of Buenos Aires.[12]

Later years

  As his work in the laboratory was coming to an end, Leloir continued his teaching position in the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, taking a hiatus only to complete his studies at Cambridge and at the Enzyme Research Laboratory in the United States.

In 1983, Leloir became one of the founding members of the Third World Academy of Sciences.

Nobel Prize

On December 2nd, 1970, Leloir received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry from the King of Sweden for his discovery of the metabolic pathways in lactose, becoming only the third Argentine to receive the prestigious honor in any field. In his acceptance speech at Stockholm, he borrowed Winston Churchill's famous 1940 speech to the House of Commons and remarked, "never have I received so much for so little".[13] Leloir and his team reportedly celebrated by drinking champagne from test tubes, a rare departure from the humbleness and frugality that characterized the atmosphere of Fundación Instituto Campomar under Leloir's direction. The $80,000 prize money was spent directly on research,[14] and when asked about the significance of his achievement, Leloir humbly responded:[15]

"This is only one step in a much larger project. I discovered(no, not me: my team) the function of sugar nucleotides in cell metabolism. I want others to understood this, but it is not easy to explain: this is not a very noteworthy deed, and we hardly know even a little."


Leloir published a short autobiography, entitled "Long Ago and Far Away" in the 1983 Annual Review of Biochemistry. The title, Leloir claims, is derived from one of William Henry Hudson's novels that depicted the country wildlife and scenery of Leloir's childhood[1].

He died in Buenos Aires December 2, 1987 of a heart attack soon after returning to his home from the laboratory, and is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery. Mario Bunge, a friend and colleague of Leloir, claims that his lasting legacy was proving that "scientific research on an international level, although precarious, was possible in an underdeveloped country in the middle of political strife" and credits Leloir's vigilance and will for his ultimate success.[16] With his research in dire financial straits, Leloir often resorted to homemade gadgets and contraptions to continue his work in the laboratory. In one instance, Leloir reportedly used waterproof cardboard to create makeshift gutters in order to protect his laboratory's library from the rain.[17]

Leloir was known for his humbleness, focus and consistency, described by many as a "true monk in science".[18] Every morning his wife Amelia would drive him in their Fiat 600 and drop him off at 1719 Julián Alvarez Street, location of Fundación Instituto Campomar, with Leloir wearing the same worn out, gray overalls. He worked sitting on the same straw seat for decades and encouraged colleagues to eat lunch in the laboratory to save time, bringing enough meat stew to share with everyone.[19] Indeed, despite Leloir's frugality and extreme dedication to his research, he was a sociable man, claiming not to like working alone.[20]

The Fundación Instituto Campomar has since been renamed Fundación Instituto Leloir, and has grown to become a 21,000 sq. foot building with 20 senior researchers, 42 technicians and administrative personnel, 8 post doctorate fellows, and 20 Ph.D. candidates. The Institute conducts research in a variety of fields, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis.[21]

Awards and distinctions


Year Distinction
1943 Third National Science Award
1958 T. Ducett Jones Memorial Award
1965 Bunge and Born Foundation Award
1966 Gairdner Foundation Award
1967 Columbia University's Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
1968 Benito Juárez Award
1968 Honorary Doctorate from Universidad Nacional de Córdoba
1968 Argentina Chemistry Association's José Jolly Kyle Award
1969 Honorary member of the English Biochemical Society
1970 Nobel Prize for Chemistry
1971 Legion de Honor “Orden de Andrés Bello”
1976 Bernardo O'Higgins en el Grado de Gran Cruz
1982 French Legion of Honor

Published works

  • "Suprarrenales y Metabolismo de los hidratos de carbono", (1934)
  • "Farmacología de la hipertensina", (1940)
  • "Hipertensión arterial nefrógena, (1943)
  • "Perspectives in Biology", (1963)
  • "Renal Hipertensión", (1964)
  • "In Vitro Synthesis of Particulate Glycogen", (1965)
  • "Properties of Synthetic and Native liver Glycogen", (1967)
  • "Faraway and Long ago", (1983)
  • "Lipid-bond Saccharides containing glucose and galactose in agrobacterium tumefaciens", (1984)
  • "An Intermediail in Cyclic 1-2 Glucan Biosynthesis", (1985)
  • "Structural correspondence between an oligosaccharide bound to a lipid with the repeating unit of the Rhizobium meliloti" (M. E. Tolmasky, R. J. Staneloni, and L. F. Leloir), Anales de la Asociación Química Argentina (1982) no.70 pg.833-842.
  • "N-glycosilation of the proteins" (M. E. Tolmasky, H. K. Takahashi, R. J. Staneloni, and L. F. Leloir), Anales de la Asociación Química Argentina (1982) no.70 pg.405-411.
  • "Transfer of oligosaccharide to protein from a lipid intermediate in plants" (R. J. Staneloni, M. E. Tolmasky, C. Petriella, and L. F. Leloir), Plant Physiology (1981) no.68 pg.1175-1179.
  • "Presence in a plant of a compund similar to the dolichyl diphosphate oligosaccharide of animal tissue" (R. J. Staneloni, M. E. Tolmasky, C. Petriella, R. A. Ugalde, and L. F. Leloir), Biochemical Journal (1980) no.191 pg.257-260.
  • "Lipid bound sugars in Rhizobium meliloti" (M. E. Tolmasky, R. J. Staneloni , R. A. Ugalde, and L. F. Leloir), Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics (1980) no.203 pg.358-364.


  1. ^ a b c d e Luis Federico Leloir, "Long Ago and Far Away"
  2. ^, "San Clemente del Tuyú: Historia de la ciudad y leyendas de la zona" web:
  3. ^ "Cientificos Argentinos Distinguidos Con El Premio Nobel En Ciencia" web:
  4. ^ Pedro Tesone (2006). Luis Federico Leloir. Sociedad Argentina de Diabetes. Retrieved on 2007-03-19.
  5. ^ Valeria Roman, "A cien años del nacimiento de Luis Federico Leloir" web:
  6. ^ Luis Leloir, "Two decades of research on the biosynthesis of saccharides" web:
  7. ^ Ariel Barrios Medina, "Luis Federico Leloir (1906-1987): un esbozo biográfico" web:
  8. ^ Nicole Kresge, Robert D. Simoni, and Robert L. Hill, "Luis F. Leloir and Biosynthesis of Saccharides" web:
  9. ^ Ariel Barrios Medina, "Luis Federico Leloir (1906-1987): un esbozo biográfico" web:
  10. ^ "The Substance Causing Renal Hypertension"(E. Braun-Menedez, J.C. Fasciolo, L.F. Leloir, J.M. Muñoz)The Journal of Physiology(1940) no.98 pg.283-298
  11. ^ Holton JB, Walter JH, and Tyfield LA. “Galactosemia” in The Metabolic and Molecular Bases of Inherited Disease, 8th edition, 2001. Scriver, Beaudet, et al., McGraw-Hill, vol I, chapter 72 , p.1553-1587.
  12. ^ World of Scientific Discovery, Thomas Gale, Thomson Corporation, 2005-2006
  13. ^ "Luis Leloir- Banquet Speech" web:
  14. ^ Valeria Roman, "A cien años del nacimiento de Luis Federico Leloir" web:
  15. ^ Comodoro Rivadavia. Luis Federico Leloir. Chubut Argentina. Retrieved on 2007-03-19.
  16. ^ Mario Bunge, "Luis F. Leloir" web:
  17. ^ World of Scientific Discovery, Thomas Gale, Thomson Corporation, 2005-2006
  18. ^ Valeria Roman, "A cien años del nacimiento de Luis Federico Leloir" web:
  19. ^ Valeria Roman, "A cien años del nacimiento de Luis Federico Leloir" web:
  20. ^ Ariel Barrios Medina, "Luis Federico Leloir (1906-1987): un esbozo biográfico" web:
  21. ^ Instituto Leloir, web:


  • Lorenzano, Julio Cesar. Por los caminos de Leloir. Editorial Biblos; 1a edition, July 1994. ISBN 9-5078-6063-0
  • Zuberbuhler de Leloir, Amelia. Retrato personal de Leloir. Vol. 8, No. 25, pp. 45-46, 1983.
  • Nachón, Carlos Alberto. Luis Federico Leloir: ensayo de una biografía. Bank Foundation of Boston, 1994.

See also

Preceded by
Derek Harold Richard Barton
and Odd Hassel
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Succeeded by
Gerhard Herzberg

NAME Leloir, Luis Federico
SHORT DESCRIPTION Argentine biochemist
DATE OF BIRTH 1906-9-6
PLACE OF BIRTH Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH 1987-12-2
PLACE OF DEATH Buenos Aires, Argentina
  This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Luis_Federico_Leloir". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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