J. Herbert Taylor

Florida State University

January 14, 1916 - December 29, 1998


Election Year: 1977
Scientific Discipline: Genetics
Membership Type: Member

J. Herbert Taylor’s achievements in chromosome structure and reproduction helped establish standards for molecular genetics in the mid-20th Century.  Using 3H-thymidine as a radioactive label for chromosomes, he found that chromosomes could be detected at high resolution by autoradiography.  This new technique led to the discovery that each chromatid of a chromosome has two DNA subunits that segregate semi-conservatively. This was the earliest proof that DNA was the genetic material of the chromosome.  Taylor demonstrated that chromatids had opposite polarities and were analogous to the two chains of the recently proposed DNA double helix.  From 1960 to 1965, he determined that physical exchanges of DNA segments occured between homologous chromosomes during the cell-dividing process of meiosis.  Another major finding was Taylor’s explanation that DNA replication in mammalian chromosomes occurred by production of small segments, some of which contained ribonucleotides at one end.  He also discovered that methylated cytosine and repaired strands (or strands with incisions in them) in DNA were discrimination signals for repair enzymes in mammalian cells, the first evidence of a proof-reading repair system.

Taylor attended three different institutions to earn three different degrees: his B.S. degree in biology and math from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1939, his M.S. degree in botany and bacteriology from the University of Oklahoma in 1941, and his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Virginia in 1944.  After serving as a staff sergeant for the Army’s Medical Corp. during World War II, he became an assistant professor of plant sciences at the University of Oklahoma in 1946.   Taylor left the following year to accept a position as an associate professor of botany at the University of Tennessee.  In 1951, he became an assistant professor of botany at Columbia University, and he kept the job until 1954 when he began teaching at Florida State University (FSU).  He started at the institution as an associate professor of botany, becoming a full professor of cell biology in 1958.  In 1964, Taylor was appointed FSU’s Professor of Biological Science in the Institute of Molecular Biophysics, of which he was director from 1980 to 1985.  FSU delegated him as the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Biological Science in 1983.  In 1960, Taylor co-founded the American Society for Cell Biology, and he was elected president in 1969.  He was also associated with the Genetics Society of America, the Botanical Society of America, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.      

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