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Remembering Marguerite Vogt

On July 6th 2007, Marguerite Vogt, a remarkable woman of science, died at the age of 94. I was fortunate to be a colleague of Marguerite's early in my faculty career, and late in hers. This page was developed to remember Marguerite's contributions as a scientist, and to honor her role as a mentor.

My hope is for this to be a living and evolving memorial to a remarkable scientist who made significant contributions in numerous areas of research.

Photo (2003) courtesy of The Salk Institute

The early years

Marguerite Maria Vogt was born in 1913, the second of two children. Her parents, Oskar Vogt and Cécile Vogt-Mugnier, were prominent neuroscientists at the Kaiser Wilhelm/Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Berlin. Oskar was a neuroanatomist, one of the neurologists who was summoned to Moscow to examine Lenin's brain in 1925 (1) . The Vogts also identified a disease, Vogt-Vogt Syndrome (1) . Their work was significant in the development of neuroscience and neurology (2). While Oskar received much notice, Cécile was considered brilliant in her own right (11). She was described as "a teacher in the art of living, of which she could give any a good advice"(11).

The Vogts directed their two daughters into science. It is said that they even chose their fields, pharmacology and genetics (13). Marguerite's older sister Marthe became a neuropharmacologist, with an MD from Berlin and an additional doctorate in Chemistry. Marthe was appalled at the rise of Hitler, and escaped to Britain in 1935 (3). She eventually became a fellow of the Royal Society and a Professor at Cambridge University.

Marguerite is reputed to have written her first paper at aged 14, on Drosophila (4). In 1937, she took her MD from the University of Berlin, like her sister. She was 23 years of age. She went to Paris to continue her work on Drosophila with Boris Ephrussi. However, in 1937, Oskar and Cécile were dismissed from their Institute in Berlin by the Nazis. Their politics was unwelcome and Oskar's link to Moscow were suspect. With the support of the Krupp family, industrialists who were wealthy patrons, the Vogts built a small private Institute for Brain research in the Black Forest near Neustadt (4),(6).

Marguerite's sister had left, so Marguerite returned home to stay with her parents. She avoided men her own age, worried that anyone she met might be a Nazi (4). The Vogts weathered the war in their Institute, continuing their research, and offering shelter to fellow scientists. They were sufficiently remote that they survived, although their lives were perilous. Following the war, Marguerite was ready to leave the country, and after she moved to to the US in 1950, she refused to speak the German language again. (4).
Photo (1938) courtesy of Vogt Estate


Marguerite worked on two major problems in Drosophila development: the structure and function of the ring gland, and early homeotic mutants such as proboscopedia that transform one body part into another.

Marguerite wrote numerous papers, but the combination of war time and publication in German made them inaccessible for many years (6). Much of that early work is now being rediscovered. Davy Jones, a Professor at the University of Kentucky has collected the citations to Marguerite's Drosophila papers, and is working on translating them from the German.
"I am a researcher on Drosophila hormone action, who came into the field essentially two academic generations after she completed her work in the area, and who (because it was all in German language and not electronically available) was essentially unaware of her work until about two years ago. I was so astounded to finally learn of the results she had published, and so frustrated as well that my own science (and I felt, the entire field) had been held back by not being aware of utilizing the data she had published."
Davy Jones
Davy never met Marguerite, and she passed away right as his major review on the ring gland was published , which cites her work prominently(5). Sadly, she did not live to see this rediscovery of her contributions 60 years later.
"From the moment of her entry (in 1940) into the field of developmental endocrinology, Dr. Vogt delved with a passion into elucidating the an endocrine understanding of Drosophila metamorphosis. Dr. Vogt was the first to both (a) histologically track that cells which comprise the adult endocrine glands known as the "corpora allata" have their origin in the group of cells in the center of the larval ring gland and (b) demonstrate that these cells are also endocrinologically active during larval development (1941-1942). Dr. Vogt then devised two implantation bioassays for endocrine activity of the larval corpora allatal portion of the ring gland: a gonadotropic assay in experimentally manipulated adult flies (1943) and a morphogenetic assay of the inhibition of formation of adult cuticle (1946), that latter of which is the basis of an assay still used by the Drosophila field today.

In combining her sharp experimental mind with microsurgical skills that today are still unequaled in the Drosophila field, Dr. Vogt provided the crucial demonstration that the corporal allatal cells of the larval ring gland secrete a product that restrains the differentiation of an imaginal disc (eye-antennal disc)(1943). Hence, the Drosophila model system, with its genetic power already well-established, was established by Dr. Vogt to be a viable model system to probe endocrine hypotheses on the mechanisms by which secretory products of the corpora allata regulate insect metamorphosis."
Davy Jones
For a more detailed description of Marguerite's ring-glad work written by Dr Jones, click here

Drosophila geneticist Mike McKeown was a faculty colleague of Marguerite's at the Salk Institute. Now a Professor at Brown University, Mike recalls that he knew of the homeotic mutant proboscopedia even before he arrived at Salk.
"Marguerite did some key early work on homoeosis and transdetermination. I am most aware of studies she did on the proboscipedia (pb). As the name suggests, strong pb mutants transform mouth parts, in this case labial palps, to legs (or at least the ends of legs). Weaker mutants can be temperature sensitive. At moderate temperatures, these mutants transform the palps to antennae, while higher temperatures give the transformation to legs. I knew the phenotype before I got to Salk, but Marguerite showed me the paper.

She also studied the related phenomenon of transdetermination, which is usually observed when an imaginal disc of one kind is removed from the original host larva and cultured over multiple generations in adult abdomens (often requiring successive cutting of the enlarged structure). Sometimes, these discs change one fate, eg. antenna to another, eg. leg. This, along with homoeotic mutations, helped people to develop a sense of just how close in expression of key regulatory genes different tissues (especially those giving rise to the cuticle) are."
Mike McKeown
Nobel Laureate Ed Lewis and long time Vogt colleague Martin Haas reflected that Marguerite's Drosophila work was well ahead of its time (6). In later years, she would often speak of it (8). Drosophila was clearly her first love in science, and held a special place in her memory.

Off to America: Polio virus

Marguerite left Germany and in 1950, joined the California Institute of Technology, taking with her only her Bechstein piano.(4, 6). She was working as a fellow with Max Delbrück, at first on E coli K12 F+ x F-crosses(12). Delbrück suggested that she switch projects, and join Renato Dulbecco, a young faculty member who was trying to develop a culture method for polio virus (7).

Because of the danger of working with live virus, their study was relegated to the basement of a nearby hospital.(4,6, 7). They were able to establish a system not only to grow the virus, but to plaque purify it so that pure viral cultures could be identified and studied. This was a significant advance for virology, and interestingly, Marguerite's name was in the senior position on the publication (9). “It was a fantastic combination”, Dulbecco said, “and at the time, these were fantastic results” (15).
After their success, Dulbecco was promoted to associate professor, and given new lab space. (7). He continued to work with Marguerite, who was an expert at tissue culture, as they investigated other viruses. To investigate viral transformation of cells, they began to study the newly isolated polyoma virus. Marguerite's ability to culture all types of cells was critical to this study, and eventually they developed a protocol to transform hamster cells with polyoma virus (7).

Viral integration and transformation

Dulbecco was wooed away from Caltech to the newly founded Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1962, which was then under construction. Marguerite moved with him. They continued their studies in how viruses transform cells to make them cancerous. Since there was only a limited amount of space until the iconic buildings of the Institute were complete, Dulbecco went to Glasgow for a year, while Marguerite stayed in La Jolla (7). At this time Lee Hartwell (Nobel laureate, and currently director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) joined the lab as a postdoctoral fellow.
Photo courtesy of The Salk Institute
"I have had many mentors during my career. I learned different things from different people--to work on big problems, to have high standards, to not take oneself too seriously. From Marguerite, I learned the joy of being passionately lost in ideas. Marguerite made a habit of latching onto the latest postdoc to join the Dulbecco laboratory as a way of keeping herself abreast of technology developments. I was particularly lucky because I came to Renato's laboratory at the time it moved to the Salk Institute but before the buildings were finished. Consequently there was room for only two postdocs during most of my time there and I benefited by getting most of Marguerite's attention. We used to meet in La Jolla for tea and crumpets early in the morning. While Marguerite had many interests her passion was ideas. It seemed like each new paper she read generated another theory about the origins of cancer. It was great fun to visit the Salk infrequently in the decades following my postdoctoral time just to connect with Marguerite. Her preoccupation with her latest idea was so intense that she hardly noticed that we had not seen each other for five years and she would immediately launch with vivid enthusiasm into her latest idea. Her inspiration was formative and I have never ceased to find ideas the greatest reward in the life of science."
Lee Hartwell
Newcomers to Dulbecco's lab learned their tissue culture methods and transformation protocols from Marguerite, whose technical expertise and rigorous recordkeeping were legend. But she was much more than a science advisor. Marguerite was known for her generosity to students and postdocs, and was always ready to help them financially or personally. In her house on a canyon edge in La Jolla, she hosted large parties during the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter) for the students and postdocs who had nowhere to go. It was not uncommon for 40-50 people to come with their families. For Easter, she arranged for the children to hunt for chocolate eggs in the canyon below.

From her parents, Marguerite had learned political engagement and social democrat values. She was active in protesting the Vietnam war (4). It was a turbulent time, even in normally tranquil San Diego. In 1970, Dulbecco decided to move his family to London as he was concerned about the political situation in the US (7). He would not return for 5 years.
We both remember Marguerite Vogt at the Salk when we did rotations there during our respective first years at UCSD-- David in 66-67 in a rotation with David Baltimore and Ellen in 69-70 in a rotation with Leslie Orgel. Renato Dulbecco was still there in those days but Marguerite was an important presence even then-- one of the most senior woman most of us students had ever met (though in discussing her, people would refer to the "non-tenure-track" nature of her position.)
Ellen Daniell and David Gelfand
Marguerite was finally appointed as a Research Professor at the Salk Institute in 1973. This was an independent faculty level position, which was essential for her to be able to apply for independent grant support and have her own lab space and staff. (Her title changed to Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology in 1990.) She drove to work daily in a noisy convertible sports car. Marguerite exercised vigorously, clambering down the cliff at North Torrey Pines to run along the beach, or swim in the ocean. She was always energetic, apparently fuelled by bitter black coffee and copious amounts of whipped cream. On Sundays, she hosted a music salon at her home in La Jolla, where enthusiastic friends gathered to play together before eating lunch. She was a talented pianist, and playing her piano was a great joy in her life.

Cell senescence and telomeres

Cancer cells in vitro become immortalized in culture. Marguerite turned her attention to studying how this transition occurs, with a particular interest in Li-Fraumeni cells, which are derived from patients with a heritable cancer cyndrome. A number of investigators had become intrigued in how telomeres, the specialized structures at the ends of the chromosomes, might contribute to immortalization. So Marguerite added telomere biology to her repertoire. She was always eager to discuss her latest ideas with her colleagues, and she lured them into her office with cups of French roast coffee and slices of Sara Lee cake.

Even well into her 80s, Marguerite was steadily funded by the NIH to continue her work on cell immortalization, which matched her indefatigable work ethic. Susan Forsburg, now a professor at USC, joined the Salk as an assistant professor in 1993.

Photo (2003) courtesy of The Salk Institute

"Marguerite was the only other woman in the department, 50 years my senior, and still going strong. We hit it off at once because of a common interest in the cell cycle and in genetics--and maybe my small convertible! Not long after I got there, Marguerite popped into my office and asked "are they paying you what they are paying the men? I wasn't paid what they paid the men but they don't know I know that." She didn't say it with rancor, but as a wry fact. I assured her that I was confident I had been hired at a competitive rate. We talked about her past experiences. I think people often assume she was unaware of things like this, but she was much less naive than they thought. She just didn't care about it for herself. The past was the past, she was all about the future."
Susan Forsburg
Marguerite continued her interest in all the latest papers.She religiously attended all seminars even peripherally associated with immortalization and telomeres, and it was a fixture of seminars to see her slip into a front row, adjusting her hearing aid. (She didn't like to wear it otherwise). She haunted the library and daily photocopied relevant papers which she devoured.

Colleagues remember a time she ran out of the Salk library, smiling and waving a journal article. She'd been scooped, but instead of being upset, she said “Isn't it wonderful? They got the answer, we can move ahead now.” (15)

Once Marguerite stopped driving, she took the early morning bus up to N. Torrey Pines Road from her La Jolla home and jogged the few blocks to the Institute. She generally wore a long dark coat with a rucksack bouncing on her back, a mysterious figure in the dawn's light. Salk colleagues Bart Sefton or Walter Eckhart, or her long time UCSD friend and collaborator Martin Haas, typically drove her home. She was always lively intellectually; one of her postdocs during the 1990s was Russian, and Marguerite enjoyed rekindling her spoken Russian and re-reading Tolstoy in the original. (She spoke four languages, but considered French her mother tongue). Marguerite published her last scientific paper in 1998 (10). Though she continued with experiments for a while longer, eventually she retreated to her office where she read papers and monitored PubMed. It was not uncommon for her to copy papers of particular interest to her and give them to her faculty colleagues for their attention.
"I remember driving into the Institute very early one morning in October 2001 so I could tell Marguerite that her old friend Lee Hartwell had received the Nobel prize, along with my postdoc advisor Paul Nurse and cell cyclist Tim Hunt. It was still dark, but Marguerite was already there. She was delighted, and insisted that I download the announcement for her on the computer and help her send congratulations to Lee right away."
Susan Forsburg
Marguerite had an influence on several Nobelists. In addition to her history working with Renato Dulbecco (who received the Prize in 1975) and Lee Hartwell (2001), cancer researcher David Baltimore (1975) , biochemist Paul Berg (1980) and developmental biologist Ed Lewis (1995) were other laureates who worked with Marguerite at some point in their careers as colleagues or sabbatical visitors. Lewis was an old friend who frequently came to play music with Marguerite in La Jolla.

As she became more frail, Marguerite's colleagues and friends increasingly helped to make sure she had transport, went to her doctors' appointments, and so on. After a nasty bout with pneumonia around 2000, Marguerite moved with her piano into an assisted living facility. Salk security officer Roger Greig drove her in to the Institute before 6am each day. They had a cheerful game of insults that they played with each other each morning, bantering back and forth in the car. Though hard of hearing and soft of voice, Marguerite had a sharp wit for the game. Martin Haas took her home each afternoon. When the department was renovated in 2004, Marguerite was given a large new office with a bright exposure to the Salk courtyard. That year, she was named a remarkable woman of California as part of an exhibition in Sacramento. Around 2006, Marguerite had become so frail that she moved into a nursing home in La Jolla, where she died in July 2007.


Obituaries and articles about Marguerite Vogt all point out the significance of the work she did with Renato Dulbecco, and the numbers of postdocs and visitors to the Dulbecco lab whom she herself trained. Dulbecco received the Nobel Prize in 1975, but Marguerite never received any significant recognition. Yet Dulbecco and many colleagues grant her a substantial amount of credit for her contributions over the years. Quoted in the New York Times in 2001, Marguerite said, "I'm happy not to have been bothered....When you get too famous, you stop being able to work."

However, in addition to the science all agree that a significant part of Marguerite's legacy was the people with whom she worked. Walter Eckhart joined the Salk Institute as a Dulbecco postdoc and eventually became chair of Marguerite's Department and the head of the Salk Institute's NIH funded Cancer Center.
"Marguerite supported young people and took pleasure in their success. She was unfailingly kind to others, generous in sharing her knowledge, and an inspiration to generations of aspiring scientists. I feel grateful to have been her colleague." Walter Eckhart

Photo courtesy of The Salk Institute

Marguerite's colleagues at the Salk developed a lecture series in her honor. The first speaker in 2001 was David Baltimore, who had a long association with Marguerite and Renato Dulbecco working on transformation. A celebratory dinner was held with a number of old friends. And of course, music was a feature. In subsequent years, Elizabeth Blackburn (2002), Robert Weinberg (2003), Joan Steitz (2004), Rudolf Jaenisch (2005), and Thomas Curran (2006) were speakers for this series. The Institute also named a grove of eucalyptus trees for Marguerite. Located between the original buildings and the 1990s addition, the memorial grove has scattered tables and chairs, where the young scientists of the Institute like to sit and have lunch, or chat over coffee.

As discussed by Natalie Angier in the New York Times interview (2001) (4), Marguerite presents a complicated role model for women in science: her work was everything to her, and she sacrificed any personal life to science. She worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week; she never married, and never had any children. For her, it was an either/or decision: science, or not-science. It is also worth noting how different her experiences were in the 1950s as a woman scientist compared to Renato Dulbecco's as a man. Both were Europeans with MD degrees who came to the US around 1950 as research fellows. Yet while Dulbecco moved easily into the faculty track and had a family, Marguerite remained an unmarried research fellow who did not obtain an independent position for over 20 years. This was not uncommon for women scientists in that era. However, it is certain that the quality of the work that Marguerite performed helped blaze a trail for women who came later. She proved that women could be effective and talented independent investigators, just as dedicated and as accomplished as their male colleagues, and it is certain that this helped open the doors for future women faculty (and allowed them to have lives outside). Marguerite was always interested in seeing younger women succeed and be recognized, though she knew there was still work to be done.
"There have to be many more of us around....Maybe then it will be hard to ignore us."
Marguerite Vogt (4)
Marguerite was impatient with discussing the past, and very seldom mentioned it. Did she regret sacrificing a personal life to science? She never said. She refused to let anyone write her biography during her life, deflecting them politely, because it would take too much time away from her work. This is a loss, because of the wide range of her experience, the colleagues she had, and the times in which she lived. She remains an unsung trailblazer.

All of us who knew her well as students, postdocs, and colleagues, became her family. On July 31, 2007, we joined in a memorial to Marguerite dubbed "A celebration of her wonderful life". Held at the Salk Institute, it featured a variety of speakers including of course, Renato Dulbecco, and Caltech President David Baltimore, Marguerite's dear friend and collaborator Martin Haas, and Salk Institute faculty colleagues Walter Eckhart, Inder Verma, Joanne Chory and Tony Hunter. There was music and laughter and joy at recalling the scientist all of us knew simply as "Marguerite". This page is intended to maintain a memory of her contributions as a scientist and as a mentor. She is much missed.

Thanks to:
Lee Hartwell, Mike McKeown, Walter Eckhart, Ellen Daniell, David Gelfand, and Davy Jones for quotes, Davy Jones for the essay on the ring gland work, Inger Johnson for the list of Vogt lecturers, and Sarah Loffler & The Salk Institute, for pictures

Marguerite's archives are at UC-San Diego

1. Whonamedit: Oskar Vogt
2. Founders of Neurology
3. Pearce Wright (2003) Obituary. The Lancet 362: 1769
4. Natalie Angier. SCIENTIST AT WORK -- Marguerite Vogt; A Lifetime Later, Still in Love With the Lab. New York Times April 10, 2001. p. D1
5. Jones, D and Jones, G. (2007) Farnesoid secretions of dipteran ring glands: What we do know and what we can know. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 37: 771-798
6. Haas, M and Lewis, E.B.(1998). Cover Legend. Cancer Research 58 No. 22: p. ix
7. Caltech Oral History: interview with Renato Dulbecco
8. Susan Forsburg (2007) Marguerite Vogt: the unsung trailblazer. AWIS magazine 36:12
9. Dulbecco, R. & Vogt, M. (1954). Plaque formation and isolation of pure lines with poliomyelitis viruses. J. exp. Med. 99, 167-82.
10. Vogt M, Haggblom C, Yeargin J, Christiansen-Weber T, Haas M. Independent induction of senescence by p16INK4a and p21CIP1 in spontaneously immortalized human fibroblasts. Cell Growth Differ. 1998 Feb;9(2):139-46.
11. Whonamedit: Cecile Vogt
12. Bill Hayes Biographical Memoir
13. Press release: Longtime Salk Researcher Marguerite Vogt Dies, The Salk institute
14. Marguerite Vogt entry on Wikipedia
15.Oransky, I. (2007) Marguerite Vogt. The Lancet 370:1122

This page is copyrighted and pictures and quotes are used by permission. Contact the author for further information.

If you have photographs, reminiscences of Marguerite, thoughts and comments about her science, or corrections to make in this material, please email me at forsburg (at) U S C (dot) E D U. Credit and links will be provided.