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Interview with Edward B. Lewis

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A 1984 interview in two sessions with Edward B. Lewis, then the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology at Caltech. Dr. Lewis would be awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, along with Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard and Eric F. Wieschaus, for discoveries concerning "the genetic control of early embryonic development." In this interview, he recalls how he and a colleague, Edward Novitski (who would also receive a Caltech PhD), acquired stocks of Drosophila melanogaster while they were still high school students in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In 1939, after a year at Bucknell on a music scholarship and only two years at the University of Minnesota, Lewis received his bachelor's degree (in biostatistics), whereupon he entered Caltech as a graduate student. Working under A. H. Sturtevant, he continued his Drosophila studies, receiving his PhD in genetics in 1942. After a wartime stint as a meteorologist in the Army Air Forces, Dr. Lewis returned to Caltech as an instructor in the Division of Biology in 1946. He became a full professor in 1956 and the Morgan Professor in 1966. He recalls the early days of genetics at Caltech and offers his recollections of Thomas Hunt Morgan, chair of the division from 1928 to 1942, and of Sturtevant and Theodosius Dobzhansky. He comments on the state of the Biology Division after Morgan's retirement and on the arrival of George W. Beadle as division chairman in 1946. He describes his work on the Drosophila bithorax complex of genes and also on the somatic effects of radiation on human beings and his part in the controversy over nuclear testing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He recalls the visit of four geneticists from the Soviet Union in 1967. He concludes by commenting briefly on the changes in the field of genetics since the discovery of the genetic material and on his current work on the phenomenon of transvection. Dr. Lewis became emeritus in 1988 and died on July 21, 2004.

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