Mottram, James Cecil

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(b. Slody, Norfolk, England, 12 December 1879; d. London, England, 4 October 1945)

medicine, natural history.

Mottram was the only son of James Alfred Mottram and Clara Ellen Swanzy. He qualified as a doctor in 1903 at University College Hospital, London. After research in Cambridge, he joined the Cancer Research Laboratories of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in 1908. He remained there until 1919, except for service in the Royal Navy from 1916 to 1918. Mottram was director of the research department of the Radium Institute from 1919 to 1937 and then director of the research laboratories of Mount Vernon Hospital until his death in 1945. He married Rhoda Pritchard, and they had two sons and one daughter.

Mottram’s first published work (1909) was on spectroscopic analysis of tissues for sodium and potassium, and he did some work on nutrition; but his professional life was mainly devoted to the study of cancer. This work can be broadly divided into three phases; (1) the effects of X rays and radium on the cells of normal and malignant tissues; (2) carcinogenesis; and (3) the development of methods of treating cancer. He was a competent experimenter who usually planned and executed his work alone, but he also collaborated easily. He was always particularly concerned with the practical applications of his discoveries, and much of his work m all fields appears to have been conceived as exploring the basic concepts likely to improve some known practical problem.

Mottram’s most important discovery came early and was published in 1913. He showed that in both plant and animal tissues (the tips of bean shoots and ova of Ascaris megalocephala) cells are more vulnerable to damage by beta and gamma radiation when they are in process of division than in the resting stage, and that the metaphase is the most vulnerable stage. This damage results in profound nuclear changes affecting chromatin. Further work on radiation damage (published in 1926 in collaboration with G. M. Scott and S. Russ) showed that although there were no immediate changes apparent in cells subjected to beta rays from radium, subsequent examination of the tissue showed an absence of cells in active division. The final changes, which were profound enough to prevent the growth of a tumor, were interpreted as due to the incapacity of daughter cells to divide normally. In 1934 Mottram showed that if cells from bean roots were treated with X rays the chromosomes were fragmented and migration to the poles of the spindle was delayed, preventing normal cell division.

The practical applications of this work were not only in the treatment of tumors by exposure to radium but also careful measures to protect those working with X rays and radium. Mottram and Russ studied dosage in radium therapy (1916–1917) and Mottram and Clarke the leucocyte blood content of those handling radium for therapeutic purposes. Mottram served on the X-ray and radium protection committee, and he reorganized safety programs at the Radium Institute.

The most important paper on the part played by lymphocytes in carcinogenesis and immunity was published by Mottram and Russ in 1917–1918. Rats immune to Jensen’s sarcoma showed a high content of lymphocytes in the spleen and accumulation of lymphocytes around a graft of sarcoma cells; if this accumulation were delayed, growth of the sarcoma occurred. Rats could be made immune by inoculation of sarcoma cells previously exposed to beta and gamma rays from radium, and immune rats could be made tumor-bearing by exposure to X rays. This work was used to test for radiation hazard by lymphocyte counts.

Mottram’s only book on tumors (1942) examined the effect of blastogenic agents on populations of Paramecium and showed that fission time was prolonged and that abnormal individuals (often polyploids) were produced and spread through the population. These changes were related to an increase in viscosity of the protoplasm, which inhibited normal fission.

Mottram’s contribution in World War I was his fundamental and applied work on the principles of camouflage. He was already interested in the coloration of animals, and the most useful part of his book Controlled Natural Selection and Value Marking (1914) was his discussion of the function of color and pattern in natural selection. The main theme of the book is that individuals differ in their value to society, as for example in age and sex, and this influences natural selection, which may result in the destruction of the less valuable; alternatively, natural selection may act not upon the individual but upon a group such as the family.

Zoologists had been aware for some time that a color pattern that broke the outline of an animal was protective. But Mottram, using plain and patterned objects against plain and patterned backgrounds for human vision, showed experimentally that if the pattern interrupts the margin of the object blurring of the outline occurs. Also the near presence or contact with the object of an area of tone similar to the object makes it less visible. Blending of patterns near the margin also masks an outline and even small details of pattern may be sufficiently important in concealment to have a survival value. This work (published 1915–1917) was of obvious value in Mottram’s service at the Camouflage School during the war.

Mottram’s research on fish was related to his hobby of fly-fishing. He published numerous articles in sporting journals—particularly The Field, Salmon and Trout Magazine, Game and Gun Magazine, and Flyfisher’s Journal—ranging from personal anecdotes to papers on cultivating weed beds, breeding trout, breeding food for trout, pollution, and disease. The three books Fly-fishing (1915) Sea Trout (1925), and Trout Fisheries (1928) were based on these articles and included chapters designed to encourage the recreational fisherman to take a greater interest in ecology and in special techniques such as reading the age of fish from their scales. He served on the furunculosis committee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which studied the susceptibility of trout to this epizootic and the influence of temperature on its spread. The committee recommended legislation to aid in the control of the disease.


I. Original Works. Mottram’s books are Controlled Natural Selection and Value Marking (London, 1914); Fly-fishing: Some New Arts and Mysteries (London, 1915; 2nd ed., actually only a new impression, London, 1921); Sea Trout and Other Fishing Studies (London, 1922); Trout Fisheries: Their Care and Preservation (London, 1928); The Problem of Tumours. The Application of Blastogenic Agents to Ciliates. A Cytoplasmic Hypothesis (London, 1942).

The medical papers are “A Method of Quantitative Analysis of the Tissues for Potassium and Sodium by Means of the Spectroscope,” in Archives of the Middlesex Hospital, 15 (1909), 106–117; “On the Action of Beta and Gamma Rays of Radium on the Cell in Different States of Nuclear Division,” ibid., 30 (1913), 98–119; with G. M. Scott and S. Russ, “On the Effects of Beta Rays From Radium Upon the Division and Growth of Cancer Cells,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 100B (1926), 326–335; “Some Effects of Cancer-Producing Agents on Chromosomes,” in British Journal of Experimental Pathology, 15 (1934), 71–73; with S. Russ, “A Contribution to the Study of Dosage in Radium Therapy,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 10 (1916/1917), section electrotherapy, 121–140; with J. R. Clarke, “The Leucocytic Blood Content of Those Handling Radium for Therapeutic Purposes,” ibid., 13 (1919/1920), 25–32; with S. Russ, “Observations and Experiments on the Susceptibility and Immunity of Rats Towards Jensen’s Rat Sarcoma,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 90B (1917/1918), 1–33; “A Diurnal Variation in the Production of Tumours,” in Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology, 57 (1945), 265–267.

Papers on camouflage are “Some Observations on Pattern-Blending With Reference to Obliterative Shading and Concealment of Outline,” in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1915), 679–692; “An Experimental Determination of the Factors Which Cause Patterns to Appear Conspicuous in Nature,” ibid. (1916), 383–419; “Some Observations Upon Concealment by the Apparent Disruption of Surface in a Plane at Right-Angles to the Surface,” ibid. (1917), 253–257.

II. Secondary Literature. There is no bibliography of Mottram’s papers, but they may be traced through Index Medicus, Zoological Record, and individual indices of periodicals mentioned in the text.

Three obituaries are worth noting: one by “S.R.” in Lancet (1945), 2 , 581, with a photograph; R. J. Ludford, in Nature, 157 (1946), 399–400; and an anonymous notice in Salmon and Trout Magazine, no. 116 (1946), 16.

The furunculosis committee issued three reports: interim report (Edinburgh, 1930); second interim report (Edinburgh, 1933); final report (Edinburgh, 1935).

Diana M. Simpkins