Thomas Hunt Morgan: Biography of this researcher

Thomas Hunt Morgan was a great scientist, research was seen as the fundamental pillar for understanding genetics as we understand it today, along with Gregor Mendel.

This American was an evolutionary biologist, embryologist, geneticist and author of several books who had the honor of receiving a Nobel Prize for his active scientific career. Let’s take a closer look at his story through this one brief biography of Thomas Hunt Morgan.

    Biography of Thomas Hunt Morgan

    Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at the life of Thomas Hunt Morgan, his relationship with various American institutions, and his position on the great evolutionary ideas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Early years and training

    Thomas Hunt Morgan was born September 25, 1866 in Lexington, Kentucky. At the age of sixteen, he attended Kentucky State College, now this State University. In this center, he focused mainly on science, in particular natural history. During his vacation in the summer he devoted himself to working for the US Geological Survey.

    One graduated in 1886 with the title of Bachelor of Science. Next summer attended school of marine biology in Annisquam, Massachusetts, where he became interested in zoology at Johns Hopkins University..

    After two years of working and publishing several publications, Morgan was elected to an MSc at Kentucky State College in 1888. The same institution offered Morgan a professorship, although he ultimately chose to follow John. Hopkins.

    This is when completed his thesis on the embryology of spider crabs (Pycnogonida), in order to determine their phylogenetic relationship with other arthropods. Based on their embryonic development, he established that they were more related to land spiders than to crustaceans. His publication received a doctorate in 1890. With the money he won as a prize for the publication of the thesis, Morgan took the opportunity to travel the Caribbean and Europe to continue his research in zoology.

    Professional career and research

    In 1890, Thomas H. Morgan he was hired as a teacher in charge of morphology lessons at Bryn Mawr school, An institution twinned with Johns Hopkins University.

    His professional life at the institution was very intense. He lectured five days a week, twice a day, mainly focusing on biology in general terms. However, despite being a good teacher, he wanted to focus on research.

    Stay in europe

    In 1894, he went to Naples to carry out research in the laboratories of the Stazione Zoologica in the city. There he completed a study of the embryology of ctenophores, an almost microscopic way of life.

    Being in Naples he had contact with German researchers, who taught him the ideas of the Entwicklungsmechanik school. or development mechanics. This school was reactionary to the ideas of Naturphilosophy, which until then had been the benchmark in the science of morphology in the 19th century.

    At that time, there was a lot of debate about the formation of embryos. One of the most popular explanations was the mosaic theory, Which argued that the hereditary material was divided between embryonic cells, which were predestined to become specific parts of the body when mature.

    Others, being the case with Morgan at the time, believed that development was due to epigenetic factors, where interactions between the protoplasm and the nucleus of embryonic cells affected their development.

    When Morgan returned to Bryn Mawr in 1895, he was hired as a full-time teacher. There he addressed in his research aspects such as larval development and regeneration. It was also around this time that he wrote his first book, The Development of the Frog’s Egg (1897).

    From the 20th century, Morgan started researching sex determination, A time when Nettie Stevens, another great researcher, discovered the impact of the Y chromosome in determining male sex in humans.

      Columbia university

      In 1904, Morgan was invited by EB Wilson to join Columbia University, Where he could do his research full time. A year earlier he had written Evolution and Adaptation, in which he explained that, like other biologists of the time, he had found evidence for the biological evolution of species, but not in favor of the mechanism of natural selection. . Nevertheless, years later, after the rediscoveries of the discoveries made by Gregor Mendel, Morgan will change position.

      Although at first he was skeptical of Mendelian laws, given that it was given considerable importance as a theory to explain Charles Darwin’s postulates, Morgan understood that they had a great deal of meaning and evidence. behind them.

      Studies with the fruit fly

      In 1908 Morgan started working with the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Mutation, through the use of chemicals, physics and radiation, to specimens of this common fly.

      He started crossing specimens to find hereditary mutations, but at first he didn’t get any significant results. In addition, he was having trouble detecting which mutations were actually hereditary. later, when he detected the mutations, he saw that they followed the laws proposed by Mendel.

      Morgan found a white-eyed male fly that stood out among its red-eyed fellows. When white-eyed flies joined with red flies, their offspring had red eyes. However, when the second generation was crossed, that is, the girl flies, among them white-eyed flies appeared.

      Based on his research on flies, he published an article in 1911 in which he explained that certain traits were inherited in a sex-related way and that the particular trait was likely to be stored on one of the chromosomes. sexual.

      Based on this research, Morgan published in 1915, with other prestigious scientists of the time, the book The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity, Which is considered the fundamental book for understanding genetics. After studying with the insect, Morgan returned to the field of embryology, in addition to addressing the heritability of genes in other species.

      In 1915, he criticized a new movement stemming from science, eugenics, especially when it advocated racist ideas.

      last years

      Several years later, in 1928, Thomas Hunt Morgan moved to California to take over the biology section of the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH). the research in embryology, biophysics, biochemistry, genetics, evolution and physiology. He worked at CALTECH until 1942, when he retired and became professor emeritus. However, even in retirement, he would devote himself to further research on sexual differentiation, regeneration and embryology.

      Finally, Thomas Hunt Morgan died on December 4, 1945 at the age of 79 from a heart attack.

      Evolutionary posture

      Morgan was interested in evolution throughout his life. As a young man, he wrote his famous thesis on the phylogeny of spider crabs, as well as up to four books in which he explained his position on Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary ideas.

      In his book Evolution and Adaptation (1903), he criticizes the postulates of Charles Darwin. According to Morgan, selection could never produce a completely new species just by acting on the differences between simply perceptible individuals.. He also rejected the idea of ​​acquired characters postulated by neo-Lamarckism.

      Needless to say, Morgan was not a contrarian scientist. In fact, the years between 1875 and 1925 are known as the “ eclipse of Darwinism ”, as the scientific advances of the time, together with changes in postures in the natural sciences, they made the headlines of Darwin’s original ideas.

      However, after his studies with Drosophila melanogaster, Morgan changed his position. Mutations matter for evolution, Since it is these inherited traits that significantly affect the anatomical and behavioral changes of the species. These characters are inherited according to, on several occasions, the laws proposed by Mendel.


      Among the distinctions obtained by Thomas Hunt Morgan, we find the following:

      • Thomas Hunt Morgan received several accolades during his lifetime, the most notable being:
      • Doctorate from the University of Kentucky.
      • Elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (1909).
      • Elected member of the Royal British Society (1919).
      • He received the Darwin Medal (1924).
      • He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology (1933).

      In addition, several institutions were founded under his name, such as the Thomas Hunt Morgan School of Biological Sciences at the University of Kentucky. In addition, the American Society of Genetics annually awards the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal to members of the institution who have contributed to this field.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Allen, GE (1978). Thomas Hunt Morgan: man and his science. Princeton University Press.
      • Allen, GE (2000). “Morgan, Thomas Hunt. American national biography. Oxford University Press.
      • Kohler, RE (1994). Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and Experimental Life. University of Chicago Press.

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