George Beadle


A 1958 Nobel Prize laureate for Physiology or Medicine, George Beadle along with fellow scientist Edward Lawrie Tatum discovered how genes played a part in the regulation of biochemical events which happened inside cells. The American geneticist had successful and well-known experiments such as exposing Neurospora crassa which a mold found in bread to x-rays and this caused mutations, and Drosophila as well as bacterial genetics.

Early Life and Educational Background

Born on October 22, 1903, George Beadle had been known to his friends as “Beets.” He had been raised in a farm in his hometown in Wahoo, Nebraska. His mother, Hattie Albro had died while he was only four, and he along with his brother and sister had been raised by only his father, Chauncey Elmer Beadle and their housekeepers. From his father’s perspective, he had seen George Beadle as a farmer. This was something usual during those times and as they owned a farm, it was somehow expected that a son would take over it when the father had already passed.

However, one of George Beadle’s high school teachers from Wahoo High School had encouraged him to attend college. His high school teacher had been successful in persuading him to go to college and in the year 1962, George Beadle took a Bachelor of Science Degree in the University of Nebraska.

During his time there, he was able to work with Professor F.D. Keim. For one year, Beadle had the chance to work with the professor who was then studying hybrid wheat. This had probably prompted his interest in genetics, and having been exposed to their own 40-acre farm back home, he had quite a bit of background when it comes to wheat which is one of the staple farm produce up to this day.

A year later, he had his master’s degree in the same university and the same professor he had been working with helped secure a teaching post for Beadle at the Cornell University. He was able to work there until 1931. During his time there, he was able to work with Professors L.W. Sharp and R.A. Emerson. Their subject had been on Mendelian asynopsis specifically in Zea mays. Because of his work with these professors, he had also gained his Ph. D. in the year 1931.

Research and Scientific Endeavors

In the year 1935, George Beadle traveled to Paris and remained there for a period of 6 months. During his stay in Paris, he had been able to conduct studies and research works with Professor Boris Ephrussi. They did their scientific researches in the Institut de Biologie physico-chimique, and they together studied the development of Drosophila eye pigment or their so called eye color “substances.” During their work using Drosophila, another group had beaten them to it and this convinced George Beadle that a simpler genetic system was needed in order to study gene action. Later on, this same work had been the foundation which led to the development of Neurospora genetics and bioresearch for which Edward Lawrie Tatum and George Beadle had won the Nobel Prize.

Apart from his career as a geneticist, George Beadle left his post at the California Institute of Technology. He then moved to teaching at Harvard University where he held the post of Assistant Professor of Genetics. After a year of being assistant professor, he was then appointed as the Professor of Biology—for genetics, but at Stanford University this time. He remained in the said university for nine years, and it was during this time when he had dedicated collaborative work with Edward Lawrie Tatum.

They had the plan to mutate Neurospora but they knew that there was no guarantee for success. At that time, both geneticists had agreed to test only 5,000 cultures before deciding to give up. They first collected 1,000 cultures before proceeding to study any of them. Their success came with the 299th culture, and they had published the results of their studies in 1941. They won the Nobel honors in 1958, and they had also shared this with another geneticist named Joshua Lederberg. The work of Ledergberg which was based on the works of Beadle and Tatum later on established how certain viruses can carry a bacterial gene from one bacterium to another.

After nine years spent in Stanford University, he returned to the California Institute of Technology in 1946 and he was the Chairman of the Division of Biology at the same time a Professor of Biology. He held his post there until 1961. In the same year he was elected as the Chancellor of the University of Chicago. Around autumn, he then became the President of the same university.

Other Awards and Recognitions

He had received several honors during his lifetime and this included having the Hon. D.Sc. of universities such as Yale, Nebraska, Rutgers, Northwestern, Wesleyan, and Pomona College, Lake Forest College, and Kenyon College among many other distinguished bodies of education. In 1946, he was elected as a Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His awards received included the Lasker Award of the American Public Health Association, Dyer Award, the Albert Einstein Commemorative Award in Science, and the Emil Christian Hansen Prize of Denmark among others. He had also been a member of learned societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the Genetics Society of America which he was the president in the year 1946, the American Cancer Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science where he was also the president in the year 1955.

Personal Life and Latter Years

George Beadle was able to marry twice. He had his son David with his first wife Marion Hill Beadle who was a botanist. Muriel McClure, his second wife, was a writer who hailed from California. When he had retired in the year 1969, he tried to research about the origins of maize. The geneticist developed Alzheimer’s disease in 1981, and eight years later, he died and brought his scientific career to its final rest.