Lewis, Edward B., 1918-2004 (Biologist, Geneticist)
- Existence: 1918 - 2004
Background: Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1995; Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology (Caltech), 1966-1988 (emeritus, 1988-2004); Assistant and Associate Professor and Professor, 1948-1966; Instructor 1946-1948; Caltech alumnus (PhD, 1942).
Description: EDWARD B. LEWIS was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1918. After spending one year at Bucknell University on a music scholarship (he played the flute), he transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he received his bachelor's degree in biostatistics 1939. In the following summer he joined his high school friend Edward Novitski at Caltech as a graduate student in the biology division. Both young men had earlier obtained Drosophila (fruit fly) strains from Calvin Bridges at Caltech. There Lewis did his doctoral work under A. H. Sturtevant, who first mapped genes, and received his PhD in genetics in 1942. After a wartime stint as a meteorologist in the Army Air Forces, Lewis returned to Caltech as an instructor in biology in 1946. He became a full professor in 1956 and the Morgan Professor in 1966. His principle work was on the Drosophila bithorax complex of genes, which led to the identification of homeotic genes--a class of genes that play a key role in the development of all species. Lewis also did pioneering studies on the somatic effects of radiation on human beings and advised the U.S. government on radiation standards during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Lewis was 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."
Collection Notes: Oral history, 1984 (online: http://oralhistories.library.caltech.edu). This 33-page interview with Rachel Prud'homme was conducted in 1984 and released following Edward Lewis's death in July 2004. In the interview Lewis recalls the early days of genetics at Caltech and offers his recollections of Thomas Hunt Morgan, chair of the biology division from 1928 to 1942, and of A. H. Sturtevant and T. Dobzhansky. He comments on the state of the 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.
Papers: Approx. 24 linear ft. of personal papers, including scientific correspondence; research files (including notebooks of Drosophila matings); writings on the history of Drosophila genetics; photographs; and personal material and memorabilia. In processing.