Edward Tatum - American Geneticist and Nobel Prize Winner

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Edward Lawrie Tatum - Life and Education

Edward Lawrie Tatum, the Nobel Prize winning American geneticist, was born on 14 December 1909 in Boulder, Colorado, to Arthur Lawrie Tatum and Mabel Webb Tatum. Arthur Tatum was a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, and was known for using picrotoxin and arsenoxide for treating barbiturate poisoning and syphilis respectively.

Edward Tatum studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He got a BA degree in Chemistry from the latter in 1931 and a MS degree in Microbiology in 1932. Two years later, in 1934, he received a biochemistry Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His Ph.D. thesis was on the work of nutrition and metabolism of bacteria.

After receiving his Ph.D. Tatum studied for a year at the University of Wisconsin and then in 1935 he proceeded to the University of Utrecht, Holland, on a General Education Fellowship.

Tatum was married three times; first to June Alton, secondly to Viola Kantor and thirdly to Elsie Bergland. He had two daughters, Margaret and Barbara. He died on 5 November 1975 in New York of heart failure. A chain-smoker, he had also suffered from emphysema.

Edward Lawrie Tatum - Career

Tatum returned to the United States in 1937 and joined the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, California. From 1937 to 1941 he worked there as a Research Associate and from 1941 to 1945 he was an Assistant Professor of Biology.

In 1945, he moved to Yale University and worked there until 1948, first as Assistant Professor of Botany and then as Professor of Microbiology. One of his students in this period was Joshua Lederberg.

He returned to Stanford in 1948 as Professor of Biology and later, in 1953, became Professor of Biochemistry there. At this time he came in contact with George Beadle, and the pair began collaborating.

In 1957, Tatum became the Professor of Biochemistry at the Rockefeller Institute and remained there until his death.

He held memberships of the Advisory Committee of the National Foundation and the Editorial Board of Science. He served as a research advisor to the American Committee of the National Research Council on Growth, and an editorial advisor on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Edward Lawrie Tatum - Research and Nobel Prize

Edward Tatum’s early experiments concerned Drosophila (fruit fly) nutrition. Then in 1940, working with George Beadle, he began studying the effects of X-rays on the Neurospora crassa bread mold. The researchers found that X-ray exposure produced mold mutations having nutritional deficiencies. These genetic mutations meant the mold could no longer grow normally unless supplemented with amino acids. When the mutated molds were crossed with normal Neurospora crassa, the deficiencies were passed on. These experiments led the researchers to conclude that genes controlled biochemical processes, and a single gene controlled a single chemical reaction in the whole biochemical process. Beadle and Tatum put forward the one gene, one enzyme hypothesis, wherein one gene determined the structure of one enzyme. More modern research has shown that the gene and protein relationship is actually much more complex than this.

At Yale, Tatum and Lederberg worked on E.coli bacteria genetic mutations and discovered sexual reproduction or genetic recombination in bacteria.

Edward Tatum won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958. He shared it with George Beadle and Joshua Lederberg.

The Nobel Prize was given to Tatum and Beadle for their research work on the relationship between genes and proteins.