Charlotte Auerbach

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Charlotte Auerbach
Charlotte Auerbach.jpg
Born (1899-05-14)14 May 1899
Krefeld
Died 17 March 1994(1994-03-17) (aged 94)
Nationality German
Fields genetics
Known for mutagenesis
Notable awards Darwin Medal 1977

Charlotte Auerbach (14 May 1899 - 17 March 1994), known by her friends as 'Lotte', was a German-Jewish zoologist and geneticist who contributed to founding the science of mutagenesis. She became well known after 1942 when she discovered with A. J. Clark and J. M. Robson that mustard gas could cause mutations in fruit flies. She wrote 91 scientific papers, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh as of the Royal Society of London. In 1977, she was awarded the Royal Society's Darwin Medal. Aside her scientific contributions and love of science, she was remarkable in many other ways, including her wide interests, independence, modesty, and transparent honesty (Beale 1995, Kilbey 1995).

Early science education - between science teaching and PhD[edit]

Charlotte Auerbach may have been influenced by the scientists in her family: her father Friedrich Auerbach was a chemist, her uncle a physicist, and her grandfather the anatomist Leopold Auerbach.[1] She studied Biology and Chemistry at the Universities of Würzburg, Freiburg and Berlin. She was taught and inspired by Karl Haider and Max Hartmann in Berlin, and later in Würzburg by Hans Kniep. After very good examinations in biology, chemistry, and physics, she initially decided to become a secondary-school teacher of science, passing the exams for that, with distinction in 1924. She taught in Heidelberg (1924-1925) and briefly at the University of Frankfurt, from which she was dismissed - probably because she was Jewish. In 1928 she started postgraduate research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology (Berlin-Dahlem) in Developmental Physiology under Otto Mangold. In 1929 she abandoned her work with Mangold: he would later join the Nazi party, and Auerbach found his dictatorial manner unpleasant. In reply to her suggestion to change direction of her project, he replied "You are my student, you do as I say. What you think is of no consequence!" (Kilbey 1995). She again taught biology in several schools in Berlin - until the Nazi party ended this by law since she was Jewish. Following her mother's advice, she left the country in 1933 and fled to Edinburgh in Scotland where she got her PhD in 1935 at the Institute of Animal Genetics in the University of Edinburgh.[2] She would stay affiliated to this Institute throughout her whole career. After being an assistant instructor in animal genetics, she became a lecturer in 1947, Professor of Genetics in 1967 and Professor emeritus in 1969.

Research in Edinburgh[edit]

Auerbach's dissertation was on the development of legs Drosophila (Kilbey 1995). After her dissertation she became a personal assistant to Crew who connected her to the lively group of scientists he had assembled, and to invited scientists including Julian Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane, and most importantly to Lotte, to Hermann Joseph Muller (Kilbey 1995). The famous geneticist and mutation researcher stayed in Edinburgh 1938-1940 and introduced her to mutation research. Initially, she refused to work with Muller, when Crew told her to. Muller however who was present when she opposed her boss, assured her that he would only want to work with people who are interested in the projects. But since she was interested in how genes operate, Muller noted that to understand this it would be important to understand what happens if the genes are mutated - this convinced her (Kilbey 1995). She said herself "His enthusiasm for mutation research was infectious and from that day on I switched to mutation research. I have never regretted it."[3]

Teaching[edit]

While she found teaching at the schools sometimes difficult, she enjoyed teaching at the University and her lectures were models of clarity, usually delivered without any notes. She spoke with authority, but she did not mind questions, and allowed time for discussions (Kilbey 1995). She wrote several books to teach Genetics, several of them were translated in other languages.

Other interests[edit]

Apart from her scientific work she was involved in musical activities. She supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), was a fierce opponent of apartheid, and a confirmed liberal. In 1947, she published a book of fairy stories titled Adventures with Rosalind under the pen-name of Charlotte Austen.

The missing family[edit]

Charlotte was the only child of her parents, born into a third-generation Jewish family who had lived for several generations in Breslau. In 1933, at the age of 34, she fled to Scotland because of anti-Semitism and became a naturalised British citizen in 1939.[4] Charlotte Auerbach never married and had no children of her own. However, she loved children and noted to friends that she would have sacrificed science for having an own family. She unofficially 'adopted' two boys, one, Michael Avern, was the child of a German-speaking companion to her elderly mother. She helped to upbring Michael and gave him later her house in Edinburgh. The other, Angelo Alecci, came from a poor Sicilian family and the Save the Children Fund connected Charlotte with him (Beale 1995). Also, she took care of her ageing mother. In 1989, at the age of 90, she gave her house in Edinburgh to Michael and moved into the Abbeyfield Home in Grange Loan, Edinburgh, which was run by the church. She died five years later, in 1994.

She may always have felt something missing in her life, felt other people with a family, like her cousin, lead a much richer life. In a letter to her cousin she cites Eduard Mörike "Wolltest mit Freuden mich nicht ueberschuetten, und wolltest mit Leiden mich nicht ueberschuetten" - (You did not want to shower me with joy - and you did not want to shower me with suffering.) She wrote that she missed the feeling to be of personal-beloved importance to some people.

Awards, honors, and distinctions[edit]

1947 Keith Prize, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1949 Fellow of Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1957 Fellow of Royal Society, 1968 Foreign Member, Danish Academy of Science, 1970 Foreign Member, National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 1975 Honorary Degree, Leiden University, 1977 Darwin Medal, Royal Society, Honorary Degree, Trinity College, Dublin, and Honorary Degree, Cambridge University, 1982 Prix de d’Institut de la Vie (Fond, Electricité de France), 1984 Gregor Mendel Preis, German Genetical Society, 1984 Honorary Degree, Indiana University, U.S.A.

The greatest reward for herself however was the telegram her hero Hermann Joseph Muller sent after their first striking mutant results in June 1941, which read: "We are thrilled by your major discovery opening great theoretical and practical field. Congratulations."

Works[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Auerbach C, 1961, 1964. The Science of Genetics. New Yoerk, Harper & Row.
  • Auerbach C, 1965. Notes for Introductory Courses in Genetics. Edinburgh: Kallman.
  • Auerbach C, 1976. Mutation Research: Problems, Results and Perspectives. London: Chapman & Hall.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Auerbach C, J. M. Robson, & J. G. Carr, 1947. Chemical Production of Mutations. Science 105:243-247.
  • Auerbach C, 1960. Hazards of Radiation. Nature 189:169.
  • Auerbach C, 1961. Chemicals and their effects. In: Symposium on Mutation and Plant Breeding, National Research Council Publication 891, 120-144. Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences.
  • Auerbach C, 1962. Mutation: An introduction to research on Mutagenesis. Part I. Methods. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.
  • Auerbach C, 1962. The production of visible mutations in Drosophila by clorethylmethanesulfonate. Genetical Research 3:461-466.
  • Auerbach C, DS Falconer & JA Isaacson 1962. Test for sex-linked lethals in irradiated mice. Genetical Research 3: 444-447.
  • Auerbach C, 1963. Stages in the cell cycle and germ cell development. In: Radiation effects in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, edited by Ebert M & A Howard, 152-168. Chicago Year Book Medical.
  • Auerbach C, 1966. Chemical induction of recessive lethals in Neurospora crassa. Microbial Genetics Bulletin 17:5.
  • Auerbach C, 1966. Drosophila tests in pharmacology. Nature 210:104.
  • Auerbach C, 1967. The chemical production of mutations. Science 158:1141-1147.
  • Auerbach C,D Ramsey, 1967. Differential effect of incubation temperature on nitrous acid-induced reversion frequencies at two loci in Neurospora. Mutation Research 4:508-510.
  • Auerbach C, 1970. Remark on the 'Tables for determining statistical significance of mutation frequencies'. Mutation Research 10:256.
  • Auerbach C,D Ramsey, 1970. Analysis of a case of mutagen specificity in Neurospora crassa. II Interaction between treatments with diepoxybutane (DEB) and ultraviolet light. Molecular and General Genetics 109:1-17.
  • Auerbach C, 1970. Analysis of a Case of mutagen specificity in Neurosopra crassa III. Fractionated treatment with diepoxybutane (DEB). Molecular and General Genetics 109:285-291.
  • Auerbach C, BJ Kilbey 1971. Mutation in eukaryotes. Annual Review of Genetics 5:163-218.
  • Auerbach C, D Ramsay 1971. The problem of viability estimates in tests for reverse mutations. Mutation Research 11:353-360.
  • Auerbach C, 1973. Analysis of the storage effect of diepoxybutane (DEB). Mutational Research 18:129-141.
  • Auerbach C, M Moutschen-Dahmen, J Moutschen, 1977. Genetic and cytogenetic effects of formaldehyde and related compounds. Mutation Research 39:317-362.
  • Auerbach C, 1978. A pilgrim's progress through mutation research. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 21:319-334.

Legacy[edit]

There is a street named Charlotte-Auerbach-Straße in Stuhr-Brinkum.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Auerbach | Charlotte | 1899-1994 | geneticist
  2. ^ Institute of Animal Genetics
  3. ^ Auerbach 1978, 319-320.
  4. ^ Haines, Catharine (2001). International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950. California: ABC-CLIO,Inc. ISBN 1-57607-090-5. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]