Patterson, John Thomas

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(b. Piqua, Ohio, 3 November 1873; d. Austin, Texas, 4 December 1960)

embryology, genetics, evolution.

Patterson was the youngest of five children of James N. Patterson, a farmer with broad interests in mathematics and astronomy, and of Anna Linn Patterson, a schoolteacher with a college education. He and his siblings grew up in a home where books and conversation were valued, and the norm was to attend and graduate from college. He was a frail teenager, his health weakened by a bout of pneumonia, and after finishing the ninth grade was given a high school education by private tutors to spare him the daily trip to the public high school several miles from home. With this preparation Patterson attended the normal school in Ada, Ohio (now Ohio Northern University), and then entered the College of Wooster (Ohio) in 1900. After graduating in 1903, he taught at Buena Vista College, Storm Lake, Iowa, for two years. There he met Alice Jane Tozer, whom he married in 1906: they had a daughter and two sons.

In 1905 Patterson entered the graduate school of the University of Chicago, where he received the Ph. D., summa cum laude, in 1908. He also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Patterson’s research career started at the University of Chicago in 1905, while he was a doctoral candidate under the eminent zoologist and embryologist Charles O. Whitman. He was greatly influenced in the development of his scholarly interests not only by Whitman but also by the embryologist Charles M. Child, the botanist James M. Coulter, and the paleontologist Samuel W. Williston. He took as his research problem a study of the early developmental stages of the chick and the pigeon, with emphasis on the onset of gastrulation.

After receiving the Ph.D. in 1908, Patterson moved to Austin to become instructor of zoology at the University of Texas. Here he became involved in research with the chairman of the department of zoology, H. H. Newman, who was greatly interested in twinning in mammals. Together they worked on the nine-banded armadillo, Dasypus novemcintus, and published papers on the phenomenon of polyembryony in this Texas resident. The female armadillo always gives birth to quadruplets, and as a result of Patterson’s and Newman’s work it became apparent that the quadruplets are identical. Patterson proved this conclusively after Newman left the university in 1911. Beginning in 1913, he published a notable series of papers showing that the four embryos of a single fertilization derive from a single blastocyst.

After completing his work with the armadillo, Patterson turned his attention to a parasitic wasp, Paracopidosomopsis floridans, that lays its eggs on the Autographa moth. From one egg of this wasp several hundred larvae emerge after having developed by an extreme form of polyembryony.

Patterson became chairman of the department and professor of zoology after Newman’s departure. He immediately began to build the course offerings and faculty, and initiated a doctoral program in zoology. Carl B. Hartman entered this program and in 1915 received (under Patterson) the first Ph.D. granted by the University of Texas in any field. By 1920 the departmental faculty had grown to five, primarily owing to Patterson’s efforts. Hartman was retained as a faculty member, and Theophilus S. Painter and Hermann J. Muller were recruited by Patterson. D. B. Casteel completed the quintet that in the 1920’s made the department an internationally recognized center of zoological research concentrating primarily on genetics, cytogenetics, and development.

While administering the department, teaching a full load, and doing his research, Patterson found time to build up the zoological library, raise money for research, and design and see to completion a new building for the biological sciences. The biological laboratories, in a four-story building housing the departments of zoology and botany, was dedicated in 1925. Once in the new laboratories, Patterson began to shift his interest from development to genetics. Muller was beginning his studies with X rays and Drosophila ; and Patterson, realizing that money was going to be needed to support Muller’s work, set about finding it. First he wangled a considerable sum from the university administration for an X-ray machine and air conditioning equipment for the Drosophila laboratory, and in 1925 he was able to persuade the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation to appropriate $65,000 to be “used for the development of graduate instruction and research in zoology.” Further grants from the board and matching funds from the university continued until 1954, when research grants from the federal government became the primary source of funds.

Patterson collaborated with Muller in the late 1920’s. He was mainly interested in demonstrating that X rays could cause mutations in somatic cells, and with Muller he showed that in Drosophila, at least, reverse mutations—or mutations back to the original wild type—could be induced by X rays. In addition he did extensive studies on the production of gynandromorphs by inducing X-chromosome nondisjunction with X rays. He and his students also constructed a large number of aneuploid strains that they used to study the effects of hypoploidy and hyperploidy for various regions of the second and third chromosomes.

In 1938, Patterson and a former student, Wilson S. Stone, started an ambitious program to investigate speciation in the genus Drosophila. This was to result in his most distinguished contribution to biology. He and his graduate students collected Drosophila in many parts of the United States and Mexico. They did ecological, geographical, cytogenetic, genetic, and physiological studies on the numerous species they collected in the wild and then reared in the laboratory. The laboratory received international recognition for this work, much of which was summarized in a book by Patterson and Stone, published in 1952. Shortly afterward Patterson retired from research and rested on his considerable laurels.

Patterson was a member and officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (vice president, Section F. 1941); the American Society of Zoologists (president, 1939); the International Society for the Study of Evolution (founding member and president, 1947); and the Genetics Society of America (president, 1954). He was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the College of Wooster in 1938, and elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1941. In 1947 he received the Daniel Giraud Medal from the National Academy so Sciences for his work on isolating mechanisms in Drosophila.


I. Original Works. Patterson’s writings include: “A Case of Normal Identical Quadruplets in the Nine-Banded Armadillo, and Its Bearing on the Problems of Identical Twins and Sex Determination,” in Biological Bulletin, 17 (1909), 181–187, written with H. H. Newman; “Gastrulation in the Pigeon’s Egg, a Morphological and Experimental Study,” in Journal of Morphology, 20 (1909), 65–123; “Development of the Nine-Banded Armadillo from the Primitive Streak Stage to Birth; with Especial Reference to the Question of Specific Polyembryony,” ibid., 21 (1910), 359–424, written with H. H. Newman; “Studies on the Early Development of the Hen’s Egg. 1. History of the Early Cleavage and of the Accessory Cleavage,” ibid., 101–134; “Polyembryonic Development in Tatusia novemcincta,” ibid., 24 (1913), 559–682; “The Development of Paracopidosomopsis,” ibid., 36 (1921), 1–44; “Polyembryony in Animals,” in Quarterly Review of Biology, 2 (19270, 399–426; and “The Production of Mutations in Somatic Cells of Drosophila melanogaster by Means of X-rays,” in Journal of Experimental Zoology, 53 (1929), 327–372.

“Are ‘Progressive’ Mutations Produced by X-rays?” in Genetics, 15 (1930), 495–577, written with Hermann J. Muller; “The Production of Gynandromorphs in Drosophila melanogaster by X-rays,” in Journal of Experimental Zoology, 60 (1931), 173–211; “Gynandromorphs in Drosophila melanogaster,” in University of Texas Publication no. 3825 (1938), 1–67, written with Wilson Stone,” “Experimentally Produced Aneuploidy Involving the Autosomes of Drosophila melanogaster,” University of Texas Publication no. 4032 (1940), 167–189, written with Meta S. Brown and Wilson S. Stone; “The Virilis Group of Drosophila in Texas,” in American Naturalist, 75 (1941), 523–539; “Interspecific Hybridization in the Genus Drosophila,” University of Texas Publication no. 4228 (1942), 7–15; “The Drosophilidae of the Southwest,” University of Texas Publication no. 4313 (1943), 7–216, written with Robert P. Wagner and L. T. Wharton; “The Drosophilidae of Mexico,” University of Texas Publication no. 4445 (1944), 9–101, written with Gordon B. Mainland; “Incipient Reproductive Isolation Between Two Subspecies of Drosophila pallidipennis,” in Genetics, 30 (1945), 429–438, written with Theodosius Dobzhansky; “The Insemination Reaction and Its Bearing on the Problem of Speciation in the Mulleri Subgroup,” University of Texas Publication no.4720 (1947), 41–77; and Evolution in the Genus Drosophila (New York, 1952), written with Wilson S. Stone.

II. Secondary Literature. A memoir is Theophilus S. Painter, “John Thomas Patterson,” in Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences, 38 (1965), 223–262.

R. P. Wagner

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Patterson, John Thomas

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