Nobel Prize winner joins the Wallenberg Foundation

Mario Capecchi was born in Verona, Italy, in 1937. His father, Luciano Capecchi was an Italian airman who was reported as MIA in the Western Desert Campaign. His mother, Lucy Ramberg, was born in the USA, to Lucy Dodd Ramberg, an Impressionist painter, and to Walter Ramberg, a German archeologist.

During WWII, Lucy was sent to Dachau concentration camp to to her anti-Fascist activities. Prior to her arrest, she arranged for her son Mario to stay with a peasant family near Bolzano. However, after one year, the money she had given to the foster family has dwindled and Mario, at only four and half years old, ended up wandering in the streets of Northern Italy for the next four years, entering in various orphanages and roving through different towns.

During that period, Mario almost perished of malnutrition. His mother, had been released from Dachau in the meantime, and started a desperate search for her son, until she found him in a hospital bed, ill with fever and hunger. She took him back with her to Rome where he had his first bath in 6 years. In 1946, Mario’s uncle, Edward Ramberg, a renowned physicist at RCA, sent Lucy money to enable them come to the States. Mother and son moved to Pennsylvania and Mario graduated from George Schoo, a Quaker boarding institution.

His B.Sc. in Chemistry and Physics, Mario received from Antioch College (Ohio) in 1961.He then came to MIT to pursue graduate studies in physics and math but during the course of his studies he became interested in molecular biology and transferred to Harvard University, where he joined the lab of James D. Watson, one of the discoverers of the DNA structure. Capecchi obtained his Ph.D. in biophysics in 1967, from Harvard University, under the tutelage of Watson.

Following a distinguished scientific career which included posts at the Department of Biochemistry at Harvard Medical Shool, the University of Utah, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University, Capecchi won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine, together with two other scientists.

Following the Nobel Prize announcement, an Austrian woman name Marlene Bonelli claimed that Capecchi was her long-lost half brother. In May 2008, Capecchi and Bonelli (now 69 years old) finally reunited in a moving encounter that took place in Italy.