Margarita Salas

Biography of Margarita Salas Falgueras a Spanish biochemist, graduated in Chemical Sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

She was a disciple of Severo Ochoa.

She has contributed decisively to boost Spanish research in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Margarita Salas scientific collaborations

The investigations and discoveries of Margarita Salas have been numerous, large and fruitful.

Therefore, there are countless prestigious societies and scientific centers that have wanted to have her valuable collaboration at some point:

  • She was appointed European Researcher 1999 by Unesco.
  • Appointed director of the Institute of Spain (1995-2003), an organization that brings together all of the Royal Spanish Academies.
  • President of the Severo Ochoa Foundation.
  • She is a member of the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences.
  • Member of the Royal Spanish Academy, since 2003.
  • She is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Since 2007, she is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
  • She belongs to the European Molecular Biology Organization.
  • She is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology.
  • Margarita was elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • She was part of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Max-Planck Institute for Molekulare Genetik in Berlin (1989-1996)
  • She was part of the Pasteur Institute (2001).
  • Margarita Salas was President of the Institute of Spain (1995-2003)
  • She was president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research of the Gregorio Marañón Hospital (2001-2004).
  • She was a member of the Carmen and Severo Ochoa Foundation.

Since June 2016, she was part of the Governing Council of the State Research Agency.

Margarita Salas
Margarita Salas said she wouldn’t know how to live without dedicating herself to science. Credit: web nuevaalcarria.com

Honors received by this important Spanish scientist

Margarita Salas has been named Doctor Honoris Causa by twelve universities.

Spanish State did not want to be left behind in recognition of the great merits of Margarita Salas. By Royal Decree of July 11, 2008, she was granted the hereditary noble title of “Marquise de Canero“.

She was awarded for her “delivery to scientific research on molecular biology, carried out intensively and rigorously throughout her professional life.

First years of Margarita Salas

Margarita Salas Falgueras was born on November 30, 1938, in Canero, Asturias. Her father was a doctor and it was he who aroused in her interest in science.

Margarita Salas
Canero is an Asturian town located 10 km from Luarca. Credit: web todopueblos.com

In 1954, at age 16 she went to Madrid to perform the entrance exams of Chemistry and Medicine.

I doubted between studying Medicine or Chemistry; she decided to enroll in Chemistry.

In college, she was delighted by the amount of laboratory practices that were performed, especially in the organic chemistry laboratory.

Influence of Severo Ochoa on this extraordinary woman

When finishing third, during the summer vacations of 1958, in Asturias, Margarita attended a conference given by Severo Ochoa in Oviedo.

There they met; and Severo Ochoa told her that, if she liked biochemistry, she would do her doctoral thesis in Alberto Sols’ laboratory in Madrid.

He also recommended that she go with him to New York, to do her post-doctoral training and learn molecular biology.

When Professor Ochoa returned to the United States, he sent her a book. By the end of reading it, Margarita had already decided what her future was going to be by the end of the chemistry career: biochemistry researcher.

In 1961, Margarita Salas obtained a degree in Chemistry from the Complutense University of Madrid.

She got to work immediately in the laboratory of Alberto Sols, pioneer of biochemistry in Spain.

Under the direction of Professor Alberto Sols, she began her doctoral thesis.

Meeting of Margarita Salas with Eladio Viñuela

She had a thesis partner, named Eladio Viñuela, whom she had already met at the Faculty.

From those years, Margarita remembered how bad it was when she was meeting talking about her work with Professor Alberto Sols and her thesis partner.

The teacher always addressed Eladio VIñuela; he never addressed her; she was like invisible to don Alberto.

In 1963, she married her thesis partner, Eladio Viñuela. The two were strongly attracted to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Once she obtained the doctorate, in 1963, Margarita went with her husband to the United States.

There they began to work as researchers in the Scientific Department of the School of Medicine of the University of New York, together with Severo Ochoa.

Severo Ocho profesor de Margarita Salas
Severo Ochoa set the keys to decipher the genetic code. Credit: web bbvaopenmind.com

Severo Ochoa was aware of the little “visibility” that a scientist had, in a world dominated by men.

In those times, in most cases the discoveries used to be attributed to the man, and the woman went unnoticed.

For this reason, he separated them professionally; Margarita and Eladio, in different projects.

In New York with Severo Ochoa, Margarita Salas never felt discriminated against because she was a woman.

Eladio Viñuela made Margarita Salas value

But, when she returned to Spain, in 1967, facing the outside she returned to be “the woman of Eladio Viñuela”.

Her husband Eladio Viñuela was also aware of this situation. He decided to leave Margarita free way.

To do this, he abandoned the research project they shared, and began working separately.

Eladio Viñuela dedicated himself to investigating a very complex virus, which was raging in the swine population of his native Extremadura.

Margarita Salas Eladio Viñuela
Eladio Viñueña, husband of Margarita Salas, was a brilliant scientist. Credit: web extremenos.ilustres.es

Professional life of Margarita Salas in Spain

Since 1967, Margarita Salas has dedicated a large part of her professional life to the study of molecular microbiology.

Margarita Salas had an intense and long career. She has more than 350 scientific publications in international journals or books. She has supervised more than 30 doctoral theses.

She owns eight patents, and has held about 400 conferences. These numbers can give an idea of the tremendous research effort made by your privileged mind.

Margarita investigates the bacteriophage Φ29

Among his numerous research projects and among her greatest scientific discoveries, the discovery and characterization of the bacteriophage Φ29 DNA polymerase stands out.

In 1977 she had started working at the Molecular Biology Center “Severo Ochoa” as Head of the line “Replication and Transcription of the DNA of bacteriophage Φ29 (Phi29)“.

Her research revealed that, although this bacteriophage has only 20 genes, it hides a complex molecular machinery.

The Φ29 bacterial virus has properties that make it ideal in biotechnology, to amplify DNA.

That is, based on minimal amounts of DNA, millions of copies can be made for use in genetic analysis, forensic medicine, archeological studies, etc.

Thanks to this discovery, geneticists, biologists, forensic investigators or police experts who work with DNA samples can copy and expand it.

The great triumphs of this admirable scientist

In 1989 the CSIC registered the patent (with European registration number 90,908,867) derived from the investigation of the team led by Margarita Salas.

From then until 2009, when it expired, this patent accounted for half of the royalties received in the last decade, by this public institution.

This is one of the reasons why Margarita Salas is considered the inventor of the most profitable patent in Spain.

One of her most outstanding students has been Dr. María Blasco, who has always considered her as her great teacher and mentor.

Another Spanish scientist who is an admirer of the generosity and intelligence of Margarita Salas, is Dr. Elena García Armada, famous for having manufactured the first exoskeleton for children.

In an interview with Teknautas, Margarita was very happy and proud that a research in basic science has had important biotechnological applications and has been so profitable.

In 2009 Margarita Salas was an Ad Honorem professor at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, a mixed research center of the CSIC and the Autonomous University of Madrid.

There she continued working with the bacteriophage virus Φ29, very useful in biotechnology research.

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, it was a sad day for all of Spain, upon receiving the news of the death of this extraordinary woman. She was born on November 30, 1938. She was almost 81 years old.

Public recognition for a lifetime of Margarita Salas

On July 18, 2016, Margarita opened the XVII School of Molecular Biology “Eladio Viñuela”.

She directs it herself in the summer courses of the Menéndez Pelayo International University in Santander.

Since 1990, her fame has become universal. The Spaniards are proud to have an Asturian appreciated in all scientific fields.

There are numerous schools and streets that bear her name, throughout the entire Spanish geography.

She has also been named “adopted daughter” of several cities and distinguished with the title of “universal Asturian”.

The prestigious doctor Margarita Salas shares academic awards in Spain, with the doctor in Mathematics Marta Macho Stadler.

As for the dedication to health sciences, it is worth mentioning another notable woman, the Chilean doctor Marcela Contreras Arriagada.

In 2016, Margarita Salas received the Echegaray Medal from the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences.

It is the highest scientific award granted by this institution, created at the request of Santiago Ramón y Cajal in 1905.

Margarita Salas was the first woman to receive this award has only been delivered 14 times, in more than 100 years of history.

Awards and medals awarded to Margarita Salas

Her intense and long career as a researcher has been recognized with numerous distinctions: awards, medals, appointments.

Margarita Salas y colaboradores
Margarita Salas and her team at the Molecular Biology Center. Credit: web web4.cbm.uam.es

It is possible to find in many websites, relevant details of the biography of this extraordinary precursor.

For now, three of them: “Women with Science”, “Royal Spanish Academy” and “Association of Women Researchers”.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

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