Taylor, Charles Vincent

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(b. near Whitesville, Missouri, 8 February 1885; d. Stanford, California, 22 February 1946)


Charles Vincent Taylor, the youngest of ten children, was born to Isaac Newton Taylor and Christina Bashor Taylor, on a farm near Whitesville, Missouri. He was a descendant of a family whose members included eminent lawyers. Baptist clergymen, a general, a senator, and a governor. Because his father’s farm was not very productive, young Taylor had to work his way through Mount Morris College, Illinois. In college he was prominent in student affairs and, because of his fine prominent in student affairs and, because of his fine singing voice, in musical groups as well. After receiving his B.A. he became principal of a high school in Valley City, North Dakota. His deep interest in biology led him to enroll in 1914 as a graduate student at the University of California, in Berkeley, where he took the M.A. under the supervision of Joseph A. Long, based upon a study of fertilization in the mouse, and the Ph.D. in 1917 under Charles A. Kofoid, based upon a study of the neuromotor apparatus of the ciliate Euplotes. He was an instructor of zoology at the university (1917–1918), then Johnston scholar at the Johns Hopkins University of California, where he taught as assistant professor (1920–1923). In 1921, he married one of his students, Lola Lucille Felder. Spirited and interested in the arts, she brought to the family a measure of gaiety and fun that served as a balance to her husband’s more serious nature. Four children resulted from the marriage: Jeanne, Elouise, Lenore, and Isaac Newton.

During the years that he was associated with the University of California, Taylor spent some of his summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he collaborated with Robert Chambers on micromanipulative studies. His microsurgical experiments on the function of motor organelles and of the micronucleus in Euplotes, published in 1920 and 1924, are classics. In the summers of 1922 and 1923 he was on the staff at Johns Hopkins Marine Station. Taylor was assistant professor at the University of Michigan (1923–1924), and research associate at the Tortugas laboratory of the Carnegie Institution in the summers of 1924 and 1926. During these in the summers of 1924 and 1926. During these years he studied the organization and early development of marine eggs.

In 1925 Taylor was appointed to the staff of the biology department at Stanford University and quickly advanced to full professor. In 1930 he received a particularly attractive offer from the University of Michigan, but decided that biology had a more promising future at Stanford. He took leave that year, however, to teach at the University of Chicago. Upon his return to Stanford, he was made Herzstein professor of biology and chairman of the biology department (both 1931), and then dean of the School of Biological Sciences (1934).

The series of papers that Taylor and his collaborators published on the encystment and excystment of the ciliate Colpoda duodenaria has not been superseded or surpassed. From his first experiments published with H. Albert Barker in 1930 to the last papers published shortly before his death in 1946, he demonstrated his progressively more effective control of the physical conditions and state of the experimental organism, a control that necessitated a study of the structure and cytological details of reorganization in order to make certain of the taxonomic position of the experimental animal. Taylor also saw the need for an axenic culture of the organism and made efforts to see this accomplished. As a consequence, one of his collaborators, Laura Garnjobst, finally showed that encystment resulted from the lack of any one of five of the known nutritional factors in the diet. Taylor also suggested a study of stromatogenesis as the basis for resolving the taxonomic position of that most celebrated genus of protozoans, Tetrahymena, which was then in a confused state. His earlier interests, in fibrillar systems in protozoans, in solgel transformations in the protoplasm of protozoans, and in the organization of marine eggs and their early development, were essential to his deep interest in reorganization, differentiation, and redifferentiation in protoplasm. The micromanipulator known by his name was an instrument designed to enable him to complete studies on these subjects.

As administrator in the Stanford biology department, Taylor held strong views; he believed that too many scientists emphasized the differences between organisms and their functions, burrowing deeper and deeper into their specialties until they lost sight of what he called the “common denominators” in life. He looked for and emphasized these basic concepts and reorganized the department of biological sciences at Stanford so that such concepts would become the guiding principles. With the help of a sympathetic faculty that he had attracted to the department, he introduced a series of foundation courses to achieve his purpose. Many generations of students benefited from the broad background in basic biology that they received at Stanford. His idealism was misunderstood as a power play by some, however, who resented the engulfment of smaller departments into a larger unit.

In recognition of his many achievements Taylor was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1943. Two members of the department, Beadle and Tatum, won the Nobel Prize for work done in the department during Taylor’s headship.

Taylor organized a symposium for the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the cell theory (of Schleiden and Schwann) in 1939. He obtained funds that enabled him to attract an international assembly of eminent scientists. The symposium resulted in the monograph “The Cell and Protoplasm”, edited by Forest R. Moulton, and published in 1940.


I. Original Works. Taylor’s writings include “Demonstration of the Function of the Neuromotor Apparatus in Euplotes by the Method of Microdissection”, in University of California Publications in Zoology, 19 (1920), 403–470; “Fatal Effects of the Removal of the Micronucleus in Euplotes”, with W. P. Farber, ibid., 26 (1924), 131–144; “Improved Micromanipulation Apparatus”, ibid., 26 (1925), 443–454; “An Investigation on Organization of a sea Urchin Egg”, with D. H. Tennant and Douglas M. Whitaker, in Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication, 391 (1929), 1–104; “A Study of the Conditions of Encystment of Colpoda cucullus”, with H. Albert Barker, in Physiological Zoology, 4 (1931), 620–634; “Effects of a Given X-Ray Dose on Cysts of Colpoda steini at Successive Stages in their Induced Excystment”, with Morden G. Brown and Arthur G. R. Strickland, in Journal of Cellular and Comparative Physiology, 9 (1936), 105–116; “Structural Analysis of Colpoda duodenaria”. with Waldo H. Furgason, in Archiv für Protistenkunde, 90 (1938), 320–339; “Growth Studies of Colpoda duodenaria in the Absence of Other Living Organisms”, with Willem J. Van Wagtendonk, in Journal of Cellular and Comparative Physiology, 17 (1941), 349”353.

II. Secondary Literature. On Taylor and his work, see Charles H. Danforth, “Biographical Memoir of Charles Vincent Taylor”, in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 25 (1948), 205–225; Waldo H. Furgason, “The Significant Cytostomal Pattern of the ‘Glaucoma-Colpidium Group’ and a Proposed New Genus and Species, Tetrahymena geleii”, in Archiv für Protistenkunde, 94 (1940), 224–266; Laura Garnjobst, “The Effects of Certain Deficient Media on Resting Cyst Formation in Colpoda duodenaria”, in Physiological Zoology, 20 (1947), 5–14; Forest R. Moulton, ed., The Cell and Protoplasm (Washington, D.C., 1940); Victor C. Twitty, ‐Charles Vincent Taylor”, in Anatomical Record, 98 (1947), 242–243.

Arthur C. Giese

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