Muller, Herman Joseph

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MULLER, HERMAN JOSEPH (1890–1967), U.S. geneticist and Nobel Prize winner. He was born in New York City, and after teaching at Columbia and the University of Texas went to Berlin (1932–33) on a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. Having communist leanings, he moved to the Soviet Union (1933–37) where he served as senior geneticist at the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. After breaking with communist philosophy, he spent three years at Edinburgh University and then returned to the United States in 1940 to teach at Amherst College. In 1945 he moved to Indiana University, becoming Distinguished Service Professor in 1953. The central theme of his work was the nature and significance of changes in the relatively stable gene material of the chromosome.

Muller is best known for his demonstration in 1926 that X-rays induce mutations, an achievement for which he received a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1946. His earlier contributions were concerned with the design of techniques for quantitatively determining the frequencies of gene mutations, and he was among the first to recognize that these mutations constitute the basis for evolutionary change in populations. His collaborative efforts with others in Thomas Hunt Morgan's laboratory at Columbia established the association between chromosome duplication and genetic defect. He speculated on the course of human evolution based upon the genetic principles which he helped to establish, with his classical work on the fruit fly, and long championed the establishment of a human sperm bank. He also called attention to the extreme danger to genetic material inherent in atomic activity.

Muller was the recipient of many honors. He published many works and was coauthor of The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity (1915) and Genetics, Medicine and Man (1947). He also wrote Out of the Night, a Biologist's View of the Future (1935) and Studies in Genetics (1962).


Carlson, in: Canadian Journal of Genetics and Cytology, 9 (1967), 437–48, includes bibliography; T.N. Levitan, Laureates: Jewish Winners of the Nobel Prize (1960), 156–60; L.G. Grenfell, Nobel Prize Winners in Medicine and Physiology, 1901–1950 (1953), 238–43.

[George H. Fried]

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Muller, Herman Joseph

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