Friday, September 26, 2014


I was invited by the Molecular Biology Institute and Biology Department at Indiana University in Bloomington to give a talk in their weekly seminar series. My host was Michael Lynch a well known molecular population geneticist whose work on mutations, evolution, and mutation rates is well known and appreciated among geneticists.  I gave the lecture on H J Muller, my mentor and Indiana University’s first Nobel laureate.  I had never used Power Point before and the day before my lecture I visited Lynch at his office in Jordan Hall.  He downloaded my disc onto his computer and showed me what I would have to do to move slides back and forth.  The lecture was in Myers hall where the Molecular Biology Institute is housed.  The auditorium holds about 300 people and at 4 PM it was packed.  I botched the moving of the slides from the computer to the large screen but fortunately Lynch came to my rescue.  But I was in full control in delivering the lecture which was rich in anecdotes.  Nedra said that I hadn’t lost my touch (she took my genetics course in the summer of 1958). Equally engaging was the question and answer period.  I showed two pages from my notebook for Muller’s course in Mutation and the Gene which I took in early 1955. I was interested in Muller since my high school days and when I took his course I wanted to see how he thought. So not only did I take notes on the “winning of the facts” as he called it, but his reasons for the course and the value of knowledge of the history of genetics.  My talk was well received and afterwards Nedra and I were invited to a dinner at a steak house where I enjoyed a margarita (which I shared with Nedra). It was delightful to have two hours of conversation and a superb filet mignon. I thanked my host because I felt rejuvenated.  It has been about 14 years since I have given a lecture to a large audience.  It carried me back to the endorphin rushes of lecturing in my Biology 101-102 course at Stony Brook University.  It gave me great satisfaction to discuss Muller’s life and the significance of his work in radiation genetics and evolutionary genetics and his efforts to help humanity. Muller denounced the racism, sexism, and class prejudice of the eugenics movement in the United States. He condemned (in Moscow in 1937) the attacks on genetics by a politically backed view of heredity whose advocate in that audience (T D Lysenko) Muller denounced as a charlatan.  During the Cold War, Muller was a leading critic of the abuses of radiation exposure.  It was also important, I felt to show his flawed personality, and I included a photocopy of his suicide note in 1932 in Texas when psychological depression made him feel unworthy of carrying on his career or life.  Fortunately he recovered and found positive outlets for the insecurities he harbored. The capstone of my pleasure was that I was giving this lecture at Indiana University where I had gotten my PhD working in Muller’s laboratory.

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