Developmental biologist John Tyler Bonner has passed away. Bonner was a giant, as far as I’m concerned, and his writings have had a big influence on me. I won’t attempt to eulogize him, since I’m sure there will be others closer to him who will do a better job than I could. As I’ve written previously,
Among many other contributions, Bonner was a pioneer in the development of the social amoeba (or cellular slime mold) Dictyostelium discoideum as a model system for multicellular development and cell-cell signaling. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has published over twenty books and mountains of peer-reviewed papers.
By pure coincidence, I recently came across one of his early papers, and I blogged about it here (“Volvox: a colony of cells“):
Of course there is no question that a tree or an elephant is one individual, and we have a very clear mental picture of what this means, for we ourselves are individuals. But there are lower forms in the borderland between one-celled organisms and multicellular organisms that are more bothersome in this respect. –Bonner 1950
I had the honor of introducing Dr. Bonner once, when, as a graduate student, I invited him out to the University of Arizona. He was, I think, 89 at the time, and still excited about biology. He was fascinating to talk to because of that excitement, because we were interested in some of the same big questions, and because he had interesting things to say about the philosophical implications of those questions. I’m sorry to hear that he’s gone.