Suzanne Bourgeois pens history of Salk Institute in La Jolla


Suzanne Bourgeois was born and educated in Brussels, Belgium. In 1961, she moved to the Pasteur Institute in Paris to join the laboratory of Professor Jacques Monod with whom she undertook a doctoral thesis at the University of Paris/Sorbonne. She obtained her doctorate degree from the Sorbonne in 1966.

It is at the Pasteur Institute that she met one of the future founders of the Salk Institute, Melvin Cohn. In 1963, they married and moved to La Jolla to help start the Salk Institute. There, she founded the Regulatory Biology Laboratory and has published numerous articles on gene regulation. She is currently a Professor Emeritus at the institute.

After closing her laboratory she realized that she was one of the last witnesses of the amazing genesis of the Salk Institute and she made it her mission to write the book “Genesis of the Salk Institute: the Epic of its Founders.”

What brought you to La Jolla?

I left my native Brussels for Paris in 1961 to work at the Pasteur Institute. That is where I met my future husband, Melvin “Mel” Cohn; we got married and moved to San Diego from Paris in 1963. As I tell the story in my book “Genesis of the Salk Institute,” Mel was one of the founders of the Salk Institute and it is during his 1961-1963 stay in Paris that the Salk Institute was organized. We moved to San Diego together to help Jonas Salk start the Salk Institute in La Jolla.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

I realize this is very selfish, but I wish the area were less crowded.

Who or what inspires you?

History fascinates me, the incredible coincidences that changed people’s lives.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

I would invite people I have never met and who would have wonderful stories to tell. A few scientists: Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, Robert Oppenheimer. Some politicians: Hillary Clinton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill. A couple of artists: Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin. It would be interesting to watch how those people would interact!

What are your five favorite movies?

“Casablanca,” “Les enfants du paradis,” “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago.”

What is it that you most dislike?

I most dislike this question because I hate to admit that I am afraid of the dark!

What is your most-prized possession?

A Flemish painting that belonged to my parents. It is unsigned and of no commercial value, but I have known it all my life.

What do you do for fun?

Fun is in the eye of the beholder. I most enjoy what other people call work: reading, writing, thinking, talking.

What is your philosophy of life?

Never get bored.

What would be your dream vacation?

I have never been on a cruise because I have always thought of ocean cruise ships as boring and confined. Now I dream of spending lengthy vacations on river cruises, stopping and visiting one city after another.