Evelyn M. Witkin
|Evelyn M. Witkin|
Evelyn M. Witkin receiving the 2002 National Medal of Science
March 9, 1921 |
New York City
New York University
|Thesis||Genetics of Resistance to Radiation in Escherichia Coli (1947)|
|Known for||Work on DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair|
|Notable awards||Member of National Academy of Sciences
Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal
National Medal of Science
Witkin was born in New York City to Jewish parents. She received her Bachelor's degree in 1941 from New York University, where she majored in zoology. She went on to undertake graduate studies at Columbia University, where she worked on genetics with Theodosius Dobzhansky, but she choose to work with bacteria instead of Dobzhansky's preferred organism - Drosophila. Witkin chose to study mutagenesis after reading Hermann J. Muller's 1922 paper on the nature of the gene and she specifically chose to work with Escherichia coli for her PhD studies because Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück had recently demonstrated the feasibility of studying mutagenesis in that model.
In 1944, Witkin spent the summer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). During her stay she isolated a UV radiation-resistant mutant of E. coli; this was the first time mutations conferring UV radiation-resistance were isolated. She returned to CSHL in 1945 and stayed there to complete her PhD research; her degree was conferred in 1947 and was employed by the Carnegie Institution to continue work at CSHL until 1955. Witkin then worked at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn until 1971. Witkin was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at Douglass College, Rutgers University in 1971 and was named Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics in 1979, and then moved to the Waksman Institute at Rutgers in 1983.
Witkin's research since the completion of her PhD was based on DNA mutagenesis, her mutagenesis work led to her work on DNA repair. By characterizing the phenotypes of mutagenised E. coli, she and colleague Miroslav Radman (at the time a post doctoral student at Harvard) detailed the SOS response to UV radiation in bacteria in the early 1970s. She continued to work on the mechanism of the SOS response until she retired in 1991. The SOS response to DNA damage was a seminal discovery because it was the first coordinated stress response to be elucidated.
Witkin was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1977, at the time she was one of the few women elected to the Academy; a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980); and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. She was awarded the 2000 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal and her contributions to science have been recognized by the United States government as she was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2002;
For her insightful and pioneering investigations on the genetics of DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair that have increased our understanding of processes as varied as evolution and the development of cancer.
Personal life 
Evelyn Witkin was married to psychologist Herman A. Witkin; their children include Joseph Witkin, an emergency physician and founding member of Sha Na Na, and Andrew Witkin (d. 2010), a computer scientist. She is also the grandmother of four.
- Gross, C. A. (2001). "The 2000 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal. Evelyn M. Witkin". Genetics 157 (2): 459–461. PMC 1461505. PMID 11370620.
- Sweasy, J. B. (2004). "Evelyn M. Witkin Awarded the National Medal of Science". Radiation Research 161 (4): 493–494. doi:10.1667/3150. PMID 15038781.
- Gitschier, J. (2012). "It Was Heaven: An Interview with Evelyn Witkin". PLoS Genetics 8 (10): e1003009. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003009. PMID 23071456.
- Witkin, E. M. (1976). "Ultraviolet mutagenesis and inducible DNA repair in Escherichia coli". Bacteriological reviews 40 (4): 869–907. PMC 413988. PMID 795416.
- Bridges, B.; Walker, G. C. (2004). "Presidential Honor for Evelyn Witkin". DNA Repair 3 (5): 453–454. doi:10.1016/j.dnarep.2004.01.013. PMID 15084307.
- National Science Foundation. The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details