ADCOM Q&A: Dinner Party

by Lorien E. Menhennett

It is understandable that admissions committee members would want to know who has been influential in your life. As such, one question that I’ve seen on a list of medical school interview questions is: If you could invite four people to dinner, who would they be and why? I’ve given this some thought, and have come up with my short list of esteemed dinner guests:

Morgan with his fly drawings.

1. Thomas Hunt Morgan
While “T. H. Morgan” may not be a household name, this man is legendary in the field of genetics. He worked in the early part of the 20th century, shortly after Mendel’s work with pea plants was rediscovered. Morgan worked with Drosophila melanogaster (the same species of fruit fly that we worked with in my genetics class). After much work, he and his students identified a white-eyed mutant fly among the red-eyed wild-type flies. This mutant displayed a distinct pattern of inheritance. Through a series of fly crosses and much analysis, Morgan was able to show that this white-eyed trait is a “sex-linked” trait. That is, the gene responsible for the trait is located on a sex chromosome (specifically, the X chromosome). This was the first direct evidence of the physical basis of inheritance, and it revolutionized the field, leading to scores of other discoveries.

Eleanor Carothers
with Brachystola Magna
(the grasshopper)

2. Eleanor Carothers
The reason I want to meet this woman, who worked around the same time as Morgan, is two-fold. The first reason is that she made a very important contributions to what is called the “chromosome theory of inheritance.” This theory, proposed by two scientists named Boveri and Sutton, said that chromosomes carried the units of Mendelian inheritance (i.e., genes). This was a controversial theory at the time, but Carothers strengthened it by demonstrating the presence of independent assortment (one of Mendel’s theories) of chromosomes in the testes of Brachystola magna (the grasshopper). The second reason I would want to meet Carothers is that she worked as a female geneticist during a time when the field was completely male dominated. I would be very interested to hear her experiences, and to learn from her dedication and determination.

Watson and Crick in the famous
photo with their model of the
DNA double helix.

3. James Watson
4. Francis Crick
I put these two amazing men together because they worked together on their most significant discovery: the discovery of the structure of the DNA double helix. Their work, published as a one-page article in the journal Nature in 1953, paved the way for future work in just about every field of the biological sciences, especially genetics (my own particular interest). While Crick died several years ago, Watson, in fact, is still alive at the age of 83. How I would love to pick his brain!