Robert Hungate

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Robert E. Hungate
Born (1906-03-02)March 2, 1906
Cheney, WA
Died September 21, 2004(2004-09-21) (aged 98)
Davis, CA
Nationality United States
Alma mater Stanford University
Known for Rumen Microbiology
Spouse(s) Alice Elizabeth Hungate (neé Wolcott)
Scientific career
Fields Anaerobic Microbiology
Doctoral advisor C. B. van Niel

Robert Edward Hungate was a pioneering microbial ecologist who developed the first techniques for the culturing of anaerobic microbes in his study of the bovine rumen.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Hungate was born on March 2, 1906 in Cheney, WA, where his father taught biology at the State Normal School at Cheney (now Eastern Washington University) for 46 years.[2] Hungate's father was strongly influenced by his brother-in-law, Charles Piper, and encouraged Hungate's interest in the ecology of Eastern Washington through outings in the local area. Hungate graduated from Cheney Normal in 1924, and served as principal of the Spokane Indian Reservation's elementary school for a year, followed by another two years teaching in Sprague, Washington. He entered Stanford University with the goal of teaching biology at the high school level, but abandoned his plan after his first quarter at Stanford due to his dislike of pedagogy courses and his fellow education students, and instead completed an A.B. in biology magna cum laude in 1929.[1][2]

Hungate had not yet selected a research topic for his Ph.D. before taking C. B. van Niel's first course at Hopkins Marine Station in 1931.[2] Hungate was the only student, and Van Niel's intimate instruction—Van Niel sat beside him at a table and sketched illustrations on a yellow notepad, which Hungate kept at the end of the lecture—was a turning point in Hungate's scientific career.[1] At Van Niel's suggestion, Hungate selected the symbiotic bacteria of termites as his thesis topic, investigating their role in cellulose digestion.[2] However, he was unsuccessful in his attempts to isolate cellulolytic bacteria from the termite gut because culturing techniques for anaerobic bacteria had not yet been developed, a result that spurred his continued efforts to find methods to do so after he received his Ph.D. in 1935.[1][3]

Work and discoveries[edit]

Termite biology[edit]

Hungate continued his work on the biology of termites after his appointment as lecturer in the Zoology department of the University of Texas, Austin.[2] Hungate first identified the production of H
as a fermentation product in worker termites, and undertook a study of nitrogen fixation in experimental termite colonies.[2]

Rumen microbiology[edit]

The "Hungate" method[edit]

While investigating the role of cellulolytic protozoa in the rumen of cattle, Hungate isolated a colony of Clostridium cellobioparum, but the difficulty in observing the cellulose clearings they produced in shake tubes spurred him to develop a culturing method using thin agar layers in roll tubes.[1][4]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Hungate, Robert Edward (1966). The rumen and its microbes. New York, London: Academic Press. ISBN 9780123616500. 


  1. ^ a b c d e Chung, King-Thom; Marvin P. Bryant (August 1997). "Robert E. Hungate: Pioneer of Anaerobic Microbial Ecology". Anaerobe. 3 (4): 213–217. doi:10.1006/anae.1997.0109. ISSN 1075-9964. Retrieved 2013-01-12. closed access publication – behind paywall
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hungate, Robert E. (1979). "Evolution of a microbial ecologist". Annual Review of Microbiology. 33: 1–20. doi:10.1146/annurev.mi.33.100179.000245. ISSN 0066-4227. closed access publication – behind paywall
  3. ^ Chung, King-Thom; Bruce Hungate; James Russell (2005-01-31). "Robert E. Hungate". American Society of Microbiology Newsletter. p. 34. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  4. ^ Hungate, R. E.; J. Macy (1973). "The roll-tube method for cultivation of strict anaerobes". Bulletins of the Ecological Research Committee: 123–126. JSTOR 20111550.