Severo Ochoa (1905-1993)


As a young man, Severo Ochoa de Albornoz idolized fellow Spaniard and neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Ochoa could not have known that his work in molecular biology and biochemistry would lead to a Nobel Prize, rivaling the accomplishments of his hero.Born in Luarca, Spain, in 1905, Ochoa was the youngest of seven children. When he was 7, his father died and the family moved to Málaga. He attended secondary school at the Instituto de Bachillerato de Málaga, where a chemistry teacher sparked his interest in science.

After receiving his B.A. in 1921 at Málaga College, Ochoa attended the University of Madrid School of Medicine because it provided the best access to a career in biology research and an opportunity to work with Cajal. Unfortunately, Cajal retired just before Ochoa arrived at the school. Ochoa chose to work as a lab assistant for Juan Negrín and interned with Noël Paton in Glasgow, U.K. He earned his M.D. in 1929, with honors.

Ochoa spent most of the time between 1929 and 1941 as an apprentice to many well-known scientists. He worked with Otto Meyerhof at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, H. W. Dudley and Henry Dale at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, and R. A. Peters at the Plymouth Marine Biological Laboratory in Plymouth, U.K. He held a professorship briefly at the University of Madrid in 1931 and another at the Institute for Medical Research between 1934 and 1935 but chose to leave the institute (returning to Meyerhof's lab) because of the Spanish Civil War.

With World War II raging in Europe and few research opportunities, Ochoa left for the United States in 1941, becoming a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, working with Nobel laureates Carl and Gerty Cori. In 1954, he joined the New York University College of Medicine as director of the Department of Biochemistry until retiring in 1974.

The bulk of Ochoa's work focused on enzymatic processes in biological energy transfer, especially phosphorylation and oxidation and carbon dioxide utilization. But in 1955, Ochoa and collaborator Marianne Grunberg-Manago discovered polynucleotide phosphorylase, a bacterial enzyme that enabled them to synthesize ribonucleic acid (RNA) under test tube conditions. Although in vivo the enzyme's true function was later determined to cut RNA, not catalyze its synthesis, nevertheless, its discovery allowed scientists to better understand how genetic information is translated. For that work Ochoa received the 1959 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine along with Arthur Kornberg, thus becoming the first Hispanic American to receive the honor.

Between 1974 and 1985, Ochoa was a researcher with the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, New Jersey. After leaving Roche, he advised Spanish science policy authorities and scientists and taught at the Autonomous University of Madrid, which named the Center of Molecular Biology in his honor. Ochoa also received the Neuberg Medal in Biochemistry, the Medal of the Société de Chimie Biologique, and the Borden Award in the Medical Sciences. He succumbed to pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 88.


  • Severo Ochoa--Biography (2004). Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the Web site on 17 January 2005.

  • Ochoa, Severo (1997). Britannica Guide to the Nobel Prizes. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the Britannica Web site on 17 January 2005.

  • Severo Ochoa. Data Bank of Scientists. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the Project Nova at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Web site on 17 January 2005.

  • Severo Ochoa: Biochemist, Professor, Nobel Prize Winner (2004). Hispanic Heritage. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the Headbone Web site on 19 January 2005.

  • Severo Ochoa de Albornoz (2004). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the Wikipedia Web site on 19 January 2005.

  • T. Juan. Dr. Severo Ochoa de Albornoz (1905-1993). EducaMadrid. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at the EducaMadrid Web site on 19 January 2005.

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