The origins of mouse genetics: beyond the Bussey Institution.
II. Defining the problem of mouse supply: the 1928 National Research
Council Committee on Experimental Plants and Animals
Karen A. Rader
Sarah Lawrence College, One Mead Way, Bronxville, New York 10708, USA
Received: 14 August 2001 / Accepted: 18 September 2001
Even before The Jackson Laboratory was founded the problem of
inadequate mouse supply for the scientific community and the
related issue of mouse mutant strain stabilization were raised by
mouse geneticists through the National Research Council’s Com-
mittee on Experimental Animals and Plants. C.C. Little’s con-
sciousness was raised by his participation in this Committee’s
policy-making process. He came to understand the nature and
scope of mouse workers’ needs for experimental material, and he
observed tentative solutions to the problem of mouse supply and
standardization. These experiences would become important for
his later formulation of mouse supply solutions as director of the
Jackson Lab. Furthermore, the geneticists who framed this initial
discussion would later become key participants in the push to
standardize work with mouse material. For all these reasons, an
extended discussion of this Committee’s operations and conclu-
sions provides a necessary prologue to the story of mouse breeding
and production of mutant material at the Jackson Lab.
Founded in late 1928, the Committee was the brainchild of
mouse geneticist L.C. Dunn. Dunn was a Castle student who was
hired that same year by the Columbia University Zoology Depart-
ment; the institution’s goal was to revitalize its genetics research
reputation after T.H. Morgan’s departure for Caltech.
to the NRC’s Chairman of the Division of Biology and Medicine,
William Crocker, in March of that year and described the diffi-
culties recently faced by geneticists in acquiring biological mate-
rial, with special reference to his own situation:
Mutant types both of plants and of animals which have
been used in genetic or other experiments . . . in the ab-
sence of special provision usually are discarded by the
investigator or the laboratory which used them. Some labo-
ratories have taken upon themselves the preservation of
stocks.... This takes practically the whole time of one
assistant.... [F]or animal material in general there has
been no attempt to create a service or preserve a supply.
The problem has been brought home to me several times in
the past few years by inability to get in this country certain
stocks of mice which are necessary in genetic work.
By analogy, Dunn suggested, plant and animal geneticists might
solve their predicament by imitating the strategy employed by
bacteriologists, who had created the American Type Culture col-
lection as a centralized repository for bacterial research material.
Dunn proposed that the NRC formally recognize this issue and
discuss it at the next Division meeting. Crocker was skeptical, but
at the April meeting, Division members passed a formal motion to
create a Committee to study the material supply problem and they
appointed L.C. Dunn its chair.
In appointing the rest of the Committee members, Dunn ex-
plicitly sought to enroll as many “different interests and branches
of biology” as possible while still taking “special care to get per-
sons who have been faced with the difficulties which [we] will try
to alleviate.” Dunn revealed his own perceptions of which workers
were the most destitute by trying to weigh the membership towards
rodent geneticists. Out of seven members, the two most active
were mouse workers: Little and Dunn himself. Dunn also re-
quested that rat workers Helen Dean King and Milton Greenman
of the Wistar Institute share their “successful experience” in rat
breeding and supply with the Committee, but they apparently de-
Ultimately, the remaining ‘needy’ organisms were also
represented: R.A. Emerson of Cornell (plants, especially corn);
R.W. Hegner of Johns Hopkins (protozoa); George La Rue of
Michigan (parasites); and Frank Lutz of the American Museum of
Natural History (insects).
In his letters to Committee members, Dunn frequently re-stated
that their “eventual object” was to create a new “service or several
Abbreviation for Archival Materials:
LCD-APS ס Leslie Clarence Dunn Papers, American Philosophical So-
ciety, Philadelphia, PA
CCL-UMO ס Clarence Cook Little Papers, University of Maine, Orono,
Correspondence to: K.A. Rader, Marilyn Simpson Chair in Science and
Society; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cf. National Research Council, Sharing Laboratory Resources: Geneti-
cally Altered Mice, Summary of a NAS Workshop, March 1993, (Wash-
ington: National Academy Press, 1994).
Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Leslie Clarence Dunn, 1893–1974,” Biograph-
ical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences, 1978, 49: 79–104.
Quote from LC Dunn to W Crocker, 31 March 1928: in this letter, Dunn
also complains about problems he was having getting mutant strains of
sheep from Norway for genetics research; Crocker to LCD, 4 April 1928
and 9 May 1928; all from LCD-APS. On the ATCC and standardization,
see R.E. Buchanan, “History and Development of the American Type
Culture Collection,” Quart Rev Biol, June 1966, 41: 101–104 and Eric
Kupferberg, “Fixing a Name: Bacterial Systematics and the Role of
Bergey’s Manual of Determinative Bacteriology,” paper delivered at the
International Conference for the History, Social Study, and Philosophy of
Biology, Northwestern University, July 1991.
LCD to Crocker, 14 May 1928; LCD-APS.
See LL Woodruff to LCD, 16 May 1929, LCD-APS for list of members.
Although Dunn originally told Crocker that “a Drosophila worker should
probably be included,” the final committee did not have one, perhaps
because the Drosophilists were busy solving their own supply problems:
see Robert E. Kohler, Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Ex-
perimental Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994; Research
organisms and institutional affiliation of Committee members obtained
from American Men of Science, 5th edition (1933).
© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 2002Mammalian Genome 13, 2–4 (2002).
Incorporating Mouse Genome