Rollins A. Emerson
Emerson was born on May 5, 1873 in tiny Pillar Point, New York, but at the age of seven his family moved to Kearney County, Nebraska, where he attended public school and the University of Nebraska. He enrolled in the College of Agriculture there, having developed an interest in the local flora and landscaping while quite young.
He graduated in 1897 and began work for the Department of Agriculture as an editor, and soon afterwards married Harriet Hardin, with whom he had four children. He accepted a position at the University of Nebraska, as an assistant lecturer. Emerson's interests while he was at Nebraska included a wide range of projects including culture methods for different fruit and vegetables and the possibility of domesticating wild plants. Using bean breeding techniques he set up an experiment to establish the same results as Mendel, of whom he had not heard at the time.
While at Nebraska he also became interested in using maize for his research, studying the heritability of pericarp variegation in calico maize. Ears on plants grown from variegated kernels show one pattern of striping, but the pigmentation of the kernel varies, as does the red area. Emerson discovered that the more red there was in the kernels planted, the larger the amount of red ears in the progeny. In this way Emerson demonstrated Mendel's Laws yet again.
He continued this work when he moved to Cornell University in 1914. Emerson became one of the first people to suggest that mutations could cause variations in organisms. Again he used the example of the variegated pericarp in calico maize. He became department head in 1917, a position he held until his retirement. He was responsible for setting up The Maize Newsletter (http://www.maizegdb.org/mnl.php) in 1932.
Emerson became professor of plant breeding at Cornell in 1942. In 1947 he fell ill, and died on December 8, 1947, aged 74. Cornell University, through Emerson's efforts, became a centre for maize genetics research.
It is noteworthy that it is a common exercise for today's maize geneticists to trace their academic lineage to Emerson.
- Morris, R. 1969. Rollins Adams Emerson.
- Nelson, OE. 1993. A Notable Triumvirate of Maize Geneticists Genetics 135:937-941