Edward Lawrie Tatum

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Boulder, Colorado
Birth Sign
Boulder, Colorado

Edward Lawrie Tatum was an American scientist who earned the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1958 with George Wells Beadle for demonstrating that genes govern particular metabolic stages. He was born in Colorado and first followed in his father’s footsteps, studying chemistry for his bachelor’s degree, then microbiology for his master’s degree, then biochemistry for his PhD. His mixed educational qualifications had an impact on his job later on. Nonetheless, his teachers noticed his potential and recommended him to Professor Beadle, who was working on Drosophila at Stanford at the time. Following that, the two scientists worked on Neurospora and developed the ‘one gene – one enzyme’ idea, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, Tatum had to leave Stanford because he was a chemistry-trained Assistant Professor in the Biology department. He then moved to the University of Yale as an Assistant Professor of Botany, where he began working on bacteria alongside another Nobel Laureate, Joshua Lederberg, whom he had previously mentored. They then discovered that E. coli bacteria went through a sexual phase during which it could transmit genetic information. Finally, he was accepted back to Stanford as a full professor in the Department of Biology. He later held a number of prominent posts and served in a variety of roles until his death.

Childhood and Adolescence

Edward Lawrie Tatum was born in Boulder, Colorado, on December 14, 1909. His father, Arthur Lawrie Tatum, was a chemistry instructor at the University of Colorado at the time of his birth. He went on to complete his education and became a Professor of Pharmacology.

Mabel Webb Tatum, Edward’s mother, died when he was a child. Carla Harriman was his father’s second wife. Edward was his parents’ only surviving son. Elwood, his twin, died shortly after birth. Howard J. Tatum was his younger brother, and Besse C Tatum was his younger sister.

Arthur worked as a professor at various universities in the Midwest for the majority of his life. As a result, the family moved around a lot when Edward was growing up. At home, however, they always had a scientific environment, which aided in the development of his scientific ability.

Arthur worked at the University of Chicago from 1918 to 1928. Edward attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School around this time and graduated in or around 1926.

Edward went on to the University of Chicago after that. Edward relocated with his father to the University of Wisconsin Medical School as a Professor of Pharmacology after two years.

In 1931, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. From the same university, he received his M.S. in microbiology in 1932 and his PhD in biochemistry in 1934.

He focused his doctoral thesis on the feeding and metabolism of bacteria. He quickly discovered that thiamine, generally known as Vitamin B1, was required for microbes to flourish. The thesis that earned him his doctorate also provided the groundwork for his future work with G. W. Beadles.

Career of Edward Lawrie Tatum

Edward Tatum stayed at the University of Wisconsin for a year after getting his PhD, and then moved to Holland for postdoctoral work in 1935, receiving a General Education Fellowship at the University of Utrecht. He attempted, but failed, to uncover growth factors in staphylocci while there.

He then returned to the University of Wisconsin, where he remained until 1937. Professor George W. Beadles encouraged him to join him in his Drosophila research at the University of Stanford, California, some time ago.

Tatum was also offered a job working on butter microbiology. Tatum joined Beadle’s team in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Stanford as a Research Associate without teaching duties in 1937, despite his father’s wishes.

He began by concentrating on obtaining pigment precursors from Drosophila larvae. He was able to isolate the V+ hormone in a crystalline state from bacterial culture by 1941, and he named it kynurenine.

Tatum was not given credit for his work since Adolf Butenand, who was working on this independently, had discovered it first. He and Beadle were so shaken by the incident that they decided to hunt for another model and settled on Neurospora crassa.

Tatum and Beadle began exposing Neurospora to X-ray in February 1941 in order to obtain mutants with metabolic abnormalities caused by dietary deprivation. Finally, the mutant number 299 was identified as the first mutant that requires pyridoxine for proper production.

They then received hundreds of mutants with nutritional deficiencies and began working on them. They were ready to submit their first report in May 1941, which said that “gene and enzyme specificities are of the same order.”

They hypothesized a direct relationship between genes and enzymes later that year, leading to the development of the ‘one gene-one enzyme’ concept. The idea has been revised by successive scientists, but its essential remains the same.

Tatum was promoted to Assistant Professor during the winter of 1941. He then volunteered to create and teach a biochemistry course to students in both biology and chemistry. His situation, however, grew increasingly precarious because he was a chemistry graduate working in the biology department.

Tatum transferred from Stanford University to the University of Washington at St. Louis in 1945. After a semester, he was hired as an Assistant Professor of Botany at Yale University. At the Department of Botany, he designed a biochemically based microbiology course. Later, at the same institute, he was promoted to Professor of Microbiology.

Tatum and Joshua Lederberg started working on microorganisms in 1946. They utilized the same method Tatum had used on Neurospora and discovered that Escherichia coli bacteria of the K-12 strain went through a sexual phase during which they could pass on genetic information.

He returned to Stanford University as a full professor in the Department of Biology in 1948. He largely pursued and managed various biochemical studies while he was there. Later, when the School of Medicine was being rebuilt on University grounds, Tatum assisted in the development of its curriculum.

He was named head of the newly founded Department of Biochemistry in 1956. During this time, the Institution grew into a prominent research center. However, towards the end of the year, he left Stanford for personal reasons and joined the Rockefeller Institute.

He focused on institutional affairs at the Rockefeller Institute. Simultaneously, he maintained his interest in Neurospora and encouraged his students to develop their own concepts. In fact, he was more proud of their achievements than of his own.

He spent a significant amount of time near the conclusion of his career working on national scientific policy and strengthening fellowship programs. He was also the Chairman of the Board of the Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratory for a while.

Major Projects of Edward Lawrie Tatum

Tatum is most known for his work on Neurospora with George W. Beadle. They arrived to the conclusion that “a single gene may be considered to be connected with the principal control of a certain chemical reaction” after studying a large number of mutants over a lengthy period of time. Their proposal, later dubbed the “one gene, one enzyme hypothesis,” was essential in the development of molecular genetics.

Tatum is well known for his research on microbes at Yale University. Bacteria became the primary source of knowledge for understanding how genetics controls biochemical processes as a result of his study.

Achievements & Awards

Edward Lawrie Tatum and George Wells Beadle were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 for “discovering that genes function by influencing specific chemical reactions.” Incidentally, Joshua Lederberg, whom Edward had mentored at the University of Yale while working on bacterial recombination, shared the prize with him.

Personal History and Legacy

Tatum married June Alton for the first time on June 28, 1934. Margaret and Barbara were the couple’s two daughters. In 1956, they got divorced.

Tatum married Viola Kanter on December 16, 1956. They were married till she died on April 21, 1974. Elsie Bergland, whom he married for the third time later that year, was his third wife. They were married till his death a few years later.

Tatum was a chain smoker who had developed chronic emphysema. He died of heart failure on November 7, 1975.

Estimated net worth

The Estimated net worth of Edward Lawrie Tatum  is unknown.