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Nobel Prize winning biologist
George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, on October 22, 1903, the son of Chauncey Elmer and Hattie (Albro) Beadle. He attended Wahoo High School, where his teachers encouraged him to pursue a career in science.
Beadle received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nebraska College of Agriculture in 1926, and subsequently worked for a year with Professor F.D. Keim, who was studying hybrid wheat, before earning his Mster of Science degree in 1927. He then became a teaching assistant at Cornell University, where he worked with Professors R.A. Emerson and L.W. Sharp on Mendelian asynopsis in Zea mays (a variety of corn). That work earned him a Doctorate in 1931.
After Cornell, Beadle received a National Research Council Fellowship at the California Institute of Technology 1931, where he worked on Indian corn and began, in collaboration with Professor Thomas Hunt Morgan, work on crossing-over in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. In 1935 he visited Paris for six months to work with Professor Boris Ephrussi at the Institut de Biologie physico-chimique. Together they began the study of the development of eye pigment in Drosophila. Their results indicated that something as apparently simple as eye color is the product of a long series of chemical reactions and that genes somehow affect these reactions.
In 1936 Beadle left the California Institute of Technology to become Assistant Professor of Genetics at Harvard University. A year later he was appointed Professor of Biology (Genetics) at Stanford University and there he remained for nine years, working for most of this period in collaboration with Edward Lawrie Tatum. About 1940, Beadle and Tatum began studying the bread mold Neurospora crassa, exposing it to x-rays, observing the mutations that resulted, and charting the reactions by which the mold synthesized needed chemicals. These experiments enabled them to conclude that each gene determined the structure of a specific enzyme that, in turn, allowed a single chemical reaction to proceed. Beadle and Tatum's "one gene, one enzyme" concept earned them the 1958 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, which they shared with geneticist Joshua Lederberg, whose subsequent work showed that certain viruses were capable of carrying a bacterial gene from one bacterium to another.
In 1946 Beadle returned to the California Institute of Technology as Professor of Biology and Chairman of the Division of Biology. He remained there until January 1961, when he was elected Chancellor of the University of Chicago and, in the autumn of the same year, President of this University. He retired from Chicago in 1968 to direct the American Medical Association's Institute for Biomedical Research, until 1970.
George Wells Beadle died in Pomona, California, on June 9, 1989.
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