Thomas Hunt Morgan. September 25, 1866 – December 4, 1945. American biologist, one of the founders of genetics. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Morganist.


Life and Work:

1. Along with Georg Mendel, this American geneticist and Nobel laureate became an ideological cliché in USSR.


2. “The roar of guns on the battlefields has not yet subsided, the blood of the loyal sons of the Soviet people who defended the honor, freedom and independence of our Motherland has not stopped flowing, the workers of the rear helped the front and at the same time restored the destroyed cities and villages, factories and plants, while the adherents of the Mendelev-Morgan biology direction are busy solving the “most important” problem: in what number and ratio fruit flies died in the population in Voronezh destroyed by the German invaders,” that was how Mendelism-Morganism was branded as a bourgeois pseudoscience at the August session of the VASKhNIL in 1948.


3. A relative of the tycoon John Morgan and great-grandson of the American anthem music composer, he was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Since childhood, the eldest son of a diplomat was interested in biology and dragged home everything curious he found in the area: fossils, insects, plants.


4. Morgan received his bachelor’s degree from the State College of Kentucky, now the University of Kentucky. He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University for research in the field of marine spider embryology. For thirteen years, Morgan, Ph. D., taught biology at Bryn Mawr College, a private women’s university in Pennsylvania, where he also actively pursued science.


5. In 1904, Morgan married his Bryn Mawr student, Lillian Vaughan Sampson, and took a position as a professor of zoology at Columbia University in New York. By this time, he had already become familiar with the work of Mendel and his followers and became interested in what would later be called genetics. After all, comparative and descriptive methods of biology did not explain the mechanism of hereditary transmission of traits.


6. At first, Morgan did not agree with Mendel and did not believe that chromosomes are carriers of heredity. He wanted to use rabbits in his experiments, but they turned out too expensive to keep, and Morgan decided to use fruit flies.


7. Drosophila proved to be an ideal object, and courtesy of the “lord of the flies,” as glib-tongued journalists nicknamed Morgan, took its place in science. The flies proved very useful for Morgan – it was the experiments with the drosophila that confirmed and justified the chromosomal theory of heredity – the great discovery of 20th century science.


8. The “fly room” at Columbia University was legendary. They say that there were always not enough bottles for breeding the flies, and Morgan and his students simply stole milk bottles that Manhattan residents put at their porches in the evening.


9. The chromosomal theory of heredity is a theory according to which the transmission of hereditary information from generation to generation is associated with the transmission of chromosomes containing a certain linear sequence of genes. It was Morgan and his group who obtained experimental evidence for the localization of genes in chromosomes.


10. Morgan and his colleagues experimentally proved that genes are located in chromosomes linearly, that genes located on the same chromosome are inherited concatenated, and that concatenated inheritance can be disrupted by crossing-over – a special process of exchanging chromosome sections. The key conclusions of the established chromosomal theory of heredity were published in 1915 in the book The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity.


11. Ironically, the colleagues called the group of biologists – Morgan and his students Alfred Sturtevant, Herman Muller, and Calvin Bridges – who formulated this very theory, which won them the Nobel Prize, “the four robbers.” Although, if you think about it, everything is natural: Morgan is the notorious pirate’s namesake.


12. Even more surprisingly, by the time when Mendelism-Morganism was branded at high meetings in this country, Thomas Morgan had long been on the lists of the USSR Academy of Sciences: he was elected a foreign corresponding member in 1923, and a foreign honorary member in 1932.


13. In his Nobel Lecture, Morgan said: “...the whole subject of human heredity in the past [...] has been so vague and tainted by myths and superstitions that a scientific understanding of the subject is an achievement of the first order.”


14. Friends and colleagues spoke of Morgan warmly. They called him a kind-hearted person with a bright sense of humor. His confidence did not make him arrogant; on the contrary, he was very simple and friendly in communication.