NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NICHD Mourns Scientist Emerita Levin

Dr. Judith Levin
Dr. Judith Levin

Dr. Judith H. Levin, a long-time NIH researcher who joined the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in 1962 and then the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) from 1973 until her retirement in 2014, passed away on Dec. 8.  

A daughter of public school teachers, Levin was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned her B.A. in chemistry in 1955 from Barnard College, an M.A. in biochemistry from Harvard in 1957 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University in 1962. She came to NHLBI for her postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Dr. Marshall Nirenberg, where she studied protein synthesis and the genetic code. In 1973, Levin joined NICHD’s Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and eventually headed her own laboratory, the section on viral gene regulation. 

Levin’s research focused on the molecular mechanisms involved in retrovirus replication. She sought to understand HIV replication strategies and host defense mechanisms to help develop effective treatments for people with HIV/AIDS. 

Levin studied the effects of mutations in structural elements of the HIV-1 capsid protein on infectivity, viral core architecture and reverse transcription. She also had a longstanding interest and leadership role in research on the HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NC) and made numerous contributions regarding the critical importance of NC function for specific and efficient reverse transcription. Her scientific reviews on the nucleic acid chaperone activity of NC (i.e., the ability of NC to remodel nucleic acid structures to form the most thermodynamically stable conformations) continue to be cited widely in retrovirus literature.

After retirement, Levin was designated a “scientist emerita” and continued to interact with colleagues, join meetings remotely and stay connected with the field. In 2023, she was invited to co-edit a special issue of the journal Viruses, “Molecular Genetics of Retrovirus Replication” (  

Colleagues remember Levin as “committed to research, dedicated to her family and generous with her support in scientific and personal matters. She was a very caring person who always remembered the names of friends’ children and special dates.” 

Levin is survived by her husband of 66 years, Jonathan Levin; sons, Joshua (Dora) and Daniel (Risa); four grandchildren; and brother Bernard Goldstein. 

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