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Evelyn M. Witkin receiving the 2002 National Medal of Science

Evelyn M. Witkin (b March 9, 1921) is an American geneticist whose research has been widely influential in the areas of DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair.

Witkin was born in New York City. She received her Bachelor's degree in 1941 from New York University where she majored in zoology. She went on to undertake graduate studies at Columbia University where she worked on genetics with Theodosius Dobzhansky, but she choose to work with bacteria instead of Dobzhansky's preferred organism - Drosophila. She chose to study mutagenesis after reading Hermann J. Muller's 1922 paper on the nature of the gene and she specifically chose to work with Escherichia coli for her PhD studies because Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück had recently demonstrated the feasibility of studying mutagenesis in that model.[1]

In 1944 when she spent the summer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL); during her stay she isolated a UV radiation-resistant mutant of E. coli; this was the first time mutations conferring UV radiation-resistance were isolated.[2] She returned to CSHL in 1945 and stayed there to complete her PhD research; her degree was conferred in 1947 and was employed by the Carnegie Institution to continue work at CSHL until 1955. Witkin then worked at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn until 1971. Witkin was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at Douglass College, Rutgers University in 1971 and was named Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics in 1979, and then moved to the Wakeman Institute at Rutgers in 1983.

Witkins research since the completion of her PhD was based on DNA mutagenesis, her mutagenesis work led to her work on DNA repair. By characterizing the phenotypes of mutagenised E. coli, she and colleague Miroslav Radman (at the time a post doctoral student at Harvard) detailed the SOS response to UV radiation in bacteria in the early 1970s.[3] She continued to work on the mechanism of the SOS response until she retired in 1991.[2] The SOS response to DNA damage was a seminal discovery because it was the first coordinated stress response to be elucidated.[1]


Witkin was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1977, at the time she was one of the few women elected to the Academy; a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980); and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. She was awarded the 2000 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal and her contributions to science have been recognized by the United States government as she was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2002;

For her insightful and pioneering investigations on the genetics of DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair that have increased our understanding of processes as varied as evolution and the development of cancer.[4]

Personal life

Evelyn Witkin was married to psychologist Herman A. Witkin who were the parents of Joseph Witkin of Sha Na Na, and Andy Witkin, a software developer at Pixar. She is also the grandmother of four, including Pacific Records founder Brian Witkin.


  1. ^ a b Sweasy, J. B. 2004. Evelyn M. Witkin Awarded the National Medal of Science. Radiation Researchpp. 493–494
  2. ^ a b Gross, C.A. 1991. The 2000 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal Evelyn M. Witkin. Genetics 157: 459–469
  3. ^ Witkin. E.M. 1976. Ultraviolet mutagenesis and inducible DNA repair. Bacteriological Review 40:869–907
  4. ^ National Science Foundation. The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details


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