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Upstaged by slime molds


A serendipitous discovery
John Bonner Scientist
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I was sitting in his office one day and talking to his very pretty secretary, and not doing any work, and I just reached above behind me. It's literally true, there were all his theses from previous students. I pulled one out and it was one on slime molds, and I just couldn't believe it. And so I immediately started reading it and it was by Kenneth Raper who got his degree, his PhD, about 10 years earlier than I did, and it was absolutely wonderful. So that's what… And I wrote to Ken and he immediately responded with cultures, and everything else. And at that time, there were only two people in the whole of the world who were working on those cellular slime molds, and it was only that a few others crept in, in the next 10 years or so. But then, the thing that happened was, when molecular biology came into the fore, then instead of having – I had a graph showing this – instead of having five or so papers per annum that were on slime molds, it suddenly went to 120.   It was the beginning of the slime molds, but I think already though, I knew I wanted to work on some organism like that, and I was actually searching for it and there were a lot of good possibilities, but this is the best.

John Tyler Bonner (born in 1920) is an emeritus professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He is a pioneer in the use of cellular slime molds to understand evolution and development and is one of the world's leading experts on cellular slime molds. He says that his prime interests are in evolution and development and that he uses the cellular slime molds as a tool to seek an understanding of those twin disciplines. He has written several books on developmental biology and evolution, many scientific papers, and has produced a number of works in biology. He has led the way in making Dictyostelium discoideum a model organism central to examining some of the major questions in experimental biology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Kenneth Raper

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2016

Date story went live: 14 September 2016