When Science voted stem cell research its 1999 Breakthrough of the Year, the congratulatory article traced the field's origin to the 1981 successful culture of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells.1,2 But the roots of exploring these multipotential cells go back considerably farther, to a little-mentioned researcher who worked with mice at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Photo: Jackson Laboratory

Leroy Stevens
Leroy Stevens arrived at the lab in 1953, a newly minted developmental biologist in a premolecular era when the tools of the trade were mostly one's eyes. The young scientist found himself with an initial assignment that he calls "crazy." "The founder of the lab had gotten a grant from a tobacco company, and they wanted him to show that it wasn't tobacco that was the problem--it was the paper in cigarettes!" So Stevens dutifully dissected cigarettes and exposed mice to the components.

One day, he...

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