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Learning molecular biology from the roots


A Eureka moment in the lab
John Bonner Scientist
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The initial experiment, which was essentially done by my senior student, he was doing the work - I was sitting behind the desk - and what he was doing is he was looking at a bunch of light filters to see whether or not they responded to blue light, or red light, or what. And these were very fancy light filters so they gave you a very narrow band of colour. And he found that all of them attracted slugs, these migrating slugs. And then, he did something that I still to this day don't think ever would have occurred to me, and that is he put the little wooden boxes holding the filters in backwards, so that there was a black and… well, they couldn't possibly see the light, that's the thing. And they still went towards the light. And so he came in one morning into the lab and I was sitting at my desk and I remember this so well, he said, 'It's not light, it's heat!' And of course, there were other possibilities, too, but we soon definitely nailed it. And to me, it was always a wonderful thing to see a young student have his Eureka moment.

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: experiment, student, light filter, migrating slugs, Eureka moment

Duration: 1 minute, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2016

Date story went live: 14 September 2016