Geneticist Guido Pontecorvo was born on 29 November 1907 in Pisa into a non-observant Jewish family. He studied in the faculty of agriculture of the University of Pisa. There he was attracted to genetics, and after two years of compulsory military service, he was employed at the Ispettorato Agrario Compartimentale, Florence, leading a programme of selective breeding in cattle. He was dismissed in 1938 because of his Jewish background, but offered a post at the University of Edinburgh to join the Institute of Animal Genetics.
When Italy entered the Second World War in June 1940, his research was interrupted through his internment as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man. On his release in January, 1941 he found work in the zoology department of Glasgow University. In 1947 he was naturalised as a British citizen. In 1958 he published an influential book Trends in Genetic Analysis. From the mid-1950s Pontecorvo turned his attention to human genetics. In 1968 he accepted a research position at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories (Britain’s first specialist cancer research organisation founded in July 1902), at no. 44/6 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Pontecorvo was a member of staff at its laboratories from 1968 to 1975, and then Honorary Consultant geneticist until 1980. He died in September 1999.