Lydia Villa-Komaroff

Lydia Villa-Komaroff (1947 - ) is a molecular cellular biologist, and the third Mexican American woman in the US to receive a PhD in science. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she was inspired by her uncle who was a chemist, and her mother and grandmother who loved plants and nature. She attended the University of Washington Seattle, initially as a chemistry major but was told that “girls don’t belong in chemistry”, and switched to biology.  She moved to Washington D.C. and because Johns Hopkins University did not accept women, she received a B.S. in biology from Goucher. She then moved to Boston with her husband to attend MIT, completing graduate work in molecular biology. She became a founding member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. She received her PhD in cell biology in 1975 before moving to Harvard to research recombinant DNA technology. She moved to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to continue her research when Cambridge banned DNA research (fearing a man-made epidemic). In 1977 she joined the insulin cloning team, and the following year published the first report showing that bacteria could be used to make proinsulin. When she left laboratory research, she taught for the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and then accepted a position at Harvard, before moving to Chicago to work at Northwestern as Vice President for Research and professor of neurology. She has served on the boards and committees of several major public and private institutions and biotechnology companies. She continues to be an inspiration and role model for women and students, quoted as saying “You’re never too old to need a mentor, and you’re never too young to be a mentor.”