David Perkins and Dorothy Newmeyer Perkins helped establish orange bread mold as a model organism
By Kirsten Weir | February 1, 2007
David D. Perkins, a Stanford geneticist who continued the work of George Beadle and Edward Tatum on Neurospora -- which Beadle and Tatum used to illustrate their "one gene, one enzyme" hypothesis, earning them a Nobel Prize -- died of pneumonia early last month at the age of 87. Dorothy "Dot" Newmeyer Perkins, David's wife and laboratory collaborator, died of natural causes four days later, at the age of 84.
As the microbiology community moved toward using E. coli as a model organism in the 1950s, David Perkins "maintained his love of Neurospora" and continued to promote it as a useful model, David Jacobson, a senior scientist in Perkins' lab, told The Scientist. "David's work and sense of community spirit kept research on Neurospora alive," Jacobson said. "He stands out for his lifetime achievements, the long-term contributions to the field of genetics."
David Perkins earned a PhD from Columbia and joined the faculty of Stanford in 1948. Soon after, he began studying Neurospora, which he saw as an excellent model for studying meiosis and other processes, and at one point he worked in a lab with Tatum. Dorothy Newmeyer (the name under which she published) also studied under Tatum at Yale University and later at Stanford, where she completed her PhD and then joined Perkins's lab as a senior research assistant. They were married in 1952 and worked side by side until 1988, when poor health forced Dorothy into early retirement.
Early in their research, Perkins and Newmeyer investigated genetic recombination and mapped mutant genes, publishing a first compendium of Neurospora mutants in 1954. An updated version has been cited 326 times since it was published in 1982. It was revised again and reprinted in book form in 2001. "The impact [of the compendia] is so great that it cannot really be measured," Jacobson said.
As Perkins continued to study chromosome rearrangements and meiosis in Neurospora, he also helped establish the Fungal Genetics Stock Center (housed at the University of Missouri, Kansas City) and encouraged others to investigate the organism, said Rowland Davis at the University of California, Irvine, who collaborated with Perkins. His work "underlay the success of the whole Neurospora community," he said. "He standardized the field, [and as a result] the community stuck very closely together."
At the end of the 20th century, Neurospora enjoyed a bit of a renaissance as the field of genomics grew. Perkins drew on his extensive knowledge of the fungus to integrate classic genetics with genomics. "Once the molecular revolution came along," Davis said, "[Perkins's] contributions were huge."
Perkins was passionate about his work, spending long days in the lab, six or seven days a week, said N.B. Raju, a senior scientist in Perkins's lab. He also traveled the world in search of new Neurospora strains, collecting some 5,000 isolates. The collection allowed him and others to explore evolutionary relationships among fungi. "Within Neurospora, he was a generalist," Raju said. He was simply "interested in the biology of the fungus."
Perkins was required to retire at age 70, but returned to his lab immediately as a professor emeritus. He continued to work full-time until the week before his death, Jacobson said. Newmeyer, too, kept up with the literature and continued to edit the lab's manuscripts after her retirement. "Even after she left the lab, she was a great contributor," Jacobson said
Perkins and his lab colleagues published more than 300 articles; 40 papers listed on Web of Science have been cited more than 1200 times. During her career, Newmeyer authored 30 of the lab's publications. "It's just clear they really loved science," their daughter, Susan Perkins, told The Scientist. "They had a real passion for it."
A memorial for David and Dorothy Perkins will be held on the first evening of the 24th Fungal Genetics Meeting in Pacific Grove, California, on March 20, 2007.
Photo (on homepage): David Perkins, Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service
Links within this article:
J. Lederberg, "Fifty years of biochemical genetics: A tribute" The Scientist, September 2, 1991.
The Perkins Lab
DD Perkins, et al, "Chromosomal loci of Neurospora crassa," Microbiol. Rev. 46: 426-570
DD Perkins, The Neurospora Compendium: Chromosomal Loci. Academic Press, San Diego, 2001.
Fungal Genetics Stock Center
D. Steinberg, "Meiosis models face tough scrutiny," The Scientist, July 19, 2004.
DD Perkins, "Chromosome rearrangements in Neurospora and other filamentous fungi," Adv. Genet 1997;36:239-398.
24th Fungal Genetics Meeting