Hugo L. David was born in 1932 in Mozambique. He earned in 1958, his MD from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. After earning his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Wisconsin, USA, in 1969, he joined the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta Georgia, USA. Under his supervision protocols for handling mycobacteria specimens, culture, identification and drug susceptibility were established and adopted by the U.S. Department of Health. His research at the CDC focused the Mycobacterium cell wall which is a formidable barrier to antibiotics, and an obstacle to genetic studies.
In 1975, he joined the Pasteur Institute of Paris as a Professor and the Director of the Tuberculosis and Mycobacteria Department. He established a Mycobacterium reference center for identification and drug susceptibility and developed a large collection of mycobacterium strains. He focused the research activity of his students on the construction of a structural and architectural model of the Mycobacterium cell wall, and on the development of the techniques and the tools necessary for the advancement of research in the fields of Mycobacterium genetics and immunology. Among the milestones achieved for the first time in these fields were the description of the Mycobacterium plasmid profile, the isolation of the Mycobacterium plasmid pAL5000 that is the basis of all Mycobacterium shuttle vectors, the identification of the kanamycin gene as a selection marker for mycobacteria, the construction of the first Mycobacterium shuttle vectors pAL12 and pAL32, the use of electroporation to transfer foreign genes into mycobacteria, the establishment of genetic libraries from Mycobacterium species and the demonstration of the expression of Mycobacterium DNA in heterologous systems. These discoveries constituted the foundation for the development of Mycobacterium molecular genetics and renewed a worldwide interest in this far lugging behind field.
Hugo nurtured the exchange of scientific knowledge through the organization of many international conferences focusing on Mycobacterium research, spending months taking part in the organization of mycobacteriology laboratories in other countries, and being one of the founders of the European Society for Mycobacteriology (ESM).
Hugo was remarkably calm in his interactions with others, and simple in his way of living. He listened to his students, motivated them, and created an atmosphere of academic freedom to foster innovation and excellence. He retired from Pasteur Institute of Paris in 1992, with over 200 publications in the field of mycobacteriology.