Thesis ID: CBB001561655

Intimate Biology: Herbert Spencer Jennings, Tracy Sonneborn, and the Career of American Protozoan Genetics (2006)


Schloegel, Judith Johns (Author)

Indiana University
Gliboff, Sander

Publication Date: 2006
Edition Details: Advisor: Gliboff, Sander
Physical Details: 299 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation examines the careers of biologists Herbert Spencer Jennings (1868--1947) and Tracy Sonnebom (1905--1981) and of their research objects, the ciliated protozoa, Paramecium , as a means of exploring the distinctive organism-oriented approach to experimental research practiced by the two investigators. This account analyzes the epistemic strategy of intimate knowledge of research organisms championed by Jennings and Sonneborn as it developed from the 1890s to the 1950s and the significance of this strategy for the trajectory of American protozoan genetics. This analysis allows valuable comparison with the ideals underlying other genetics research programs that utilized more dominant research organisms during the era of the rise of classical genetics, eugenics, and molecular biology. Protozoan genetics in the United States was dominated by Jennings, who directed the zoological laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University from 1910 until 1938, and by Sonneborn, who studied and worked closely with Jennings from 1925 until 1939 before building a sizable laboratory at Indiana University. Jennings' research career in genetics was characterized by a focus on "non-Mendelian" hereditary phenomena, which included the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Jennings championed the asexually reproducing protozoa as ideally suited for the study of non-Mendelian hereditary events. Jennings' scientific agenda and his epistemology of intimacy were elements in his comprehensive philosophy, which was defined by his adherence to pragmatism, his radical experimentalism, a belief in progressive evolution, and his social democratic political orientation. This framework of philosophical and scientific thought supported his critiques of eugenic social control in the 1920s and 1930s. It likewise provided further impetus for his research program, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1930s. Sonneborn adopted Jennings' methodology of radical experimentalism and his epistemic strategy of intimate knowledge, contributing significantly to his effort to transform P. aurelia into a standardized experimental organism. Sonneborn's 1937 discovery of mating types enabled control over such life-cycle events as conjugation and autogamy, which he employed for the continued investigation of non-Mendelian hereditary phenomena. The research strategy of intimate knowledge became an important part of the experimental system, yielding new problems for exploration and, ultimately, increased explanatory power.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 67/06 (2006). UMI pub. no. 3223050.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Brzezinski Prestes, Maria Elice; Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyr Pereira; Stefano, Waldir; (2006)
Filosofia e História da Biologia 1 (/isis/citation/CBB000820181/)

Article Churchill, Frederick B.; (2010)
August Weismann Embraces the Protozoa (/isis/citation/CBB001022396/)

Article Reynolds, Andrew; Hülsmann, Norbert; (2008)
Ernst Haeckel's Discovery of Magosphaera planula: A Vestige of Metazoan Origins? (/isis/citation/CBB000931573/)

Article Reynolds, Andrew; (2008)
Amoebae as Exemplary Cells: The Protean Nature of an Elementary Organism (/isis/citation/CBB000774605/)

Article Lustig, A. J.; (2000)
Sex, Death, and Evolution in Proto- and Metazoa, 1876-1913 (/isis/citation/CBB000111744/)

Article Eduard I. Kolchinsky; (2017)
Nikolaĭ I. Vavilov in the Realm of Historical and Scientific Discussions (/isis/citation/CBB711789477/)

Book Subramaniam, Banu; (2014)
Ghost Stories for Darwin. The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity (/isis/citation/CBB001500575/)

Article Geison, Gerald L.; Laubichler, Manfred D.; (2001)
The varied lives of organisms: Variation in the historiography of the biological sciences (/isis/citation/CBB000100742/)

Book Groeben, Christiane; Kaasch, Joachim; Kaasch, Michael; (2005)
Stätten biologischer Forschung: Beiträge zur 12. Jahrestagung der DGGTB in Neapel 2003 (/isis/citation/CBB000770191/)

Article Deichmann, Ute; (2009)
Chemistry and the Engineering of Life around 1900: Research and Reflections by Jacques Loeb (/isis/citation/CBB001230120/)

Book Müller-Wille, Staffan; Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg; (2012)
A Cultural History of Heredity (/isis/citation/CBB001251195/)

Chapter Marcello Buiatti; (2015)
La storia del gene (/isis/citation/CBB572210343/)

Essay Review Smocovitis, Vassiliki Betty; (2002)
Rogues and Rotters: A Popular View of Evolutionary Psychology (/isis/citation/CBB000202117/)

Book Sapp, Jan; (2003)
Genesis: The Evolution of Biology (/isis/citation/CBB000330886/)

Book Susanne Lettow; (2014)
Reproduction, Race, and Gender in Philosophy and the Early Life Sciences (/isis/citation/CBB916714277/)

Book Zimmer, Carl; (2008)
Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life (/isis/citation/CBB000800081/)

Book Tudge, Colin; (2001)
Impact of the Gene: From Mendel's Peas to Designer Babies (/isis/citation/CBB000102136/)

Authors & Contributors
Reynolds, Andrew S.
Waizbort, Ricardo
Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyer Pereira
Brzezinski Prestes, María Elice de
Stefano, Waldir
Geison, Gerald L.
Journal of the History of Biology
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Quarterly Review of Biology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Biological Theory
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Hill & Wang
Oxford University Press
Pantheon Books
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
University of Chicago Press
Protozoa; unicellular organisms
Cellular biology
Mendel, Gregor Johann
Loeb, Jacques
Jennings, Herbert Spencer
Köstlin, Carl Heinrich
Just, Ernest Everett
Ankel, Wulf Emmo
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
18th century
Naples (Italy)
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Biologie, Berlin
Stazione Zoologica di Napoli
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment