Joshua Lederberg (May 23, 1925 – February 2, 2008) was an American molecular biologist known for his work in genetics, artificial intelligence, and space exploration. He was just 33 years old when he won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that bacteria can mate and exchange genes. He shared the prize with Edward L. Tatum and George Beadle who won for their work with genetics.
In addition to his contributions to biology, Lederberg did extensive research in artificial intelligence. This included work in the NASA experimental programs seeking life on Mars and the chemistry expert system Dendral.
Lederberg was born in Montclair, New Jersey, to Esther Goldenbaum Schulman Lederberg and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Lederberg, in 1925, and moved to Washington Heights, Manhattan as an infant. He had two younger brothers. Lederberg graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City at the age of 15 in 1940. After graduation, he was allowed lab space as part of the American Institute Science Laboratory, a forerunner of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He enrolled in Columbia University in 1941, majoring in zoology. Under the mentorship of Francis J. Ryan, he conducted biochemical and genetic studies on the bread mold Neurospora crassa. Intending to receive his MD and fulfill his military service obligations, Lederberg worked as a hospital corpsman during 1943 in the clinical pathology laboratory at St. Albans Naval Hospital, where he examined sailors' blood and stool samples for malaria. He went on to receive his undergraduate degree in 1944.