Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ruth Sager

Today Tuesday February 7, 2011 the WOD is American geneticist Ruth Sager. She pioneered the field of cytoplasmic genetics and she also proposed and investigated the roles of tumor suppressor genes.
Born on February 7, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois, Ruth Sager was one of three girls in her family. Her father worked as an advertising executive, while her mother maintained an interest in academics and intellectual discourse.

Ruth Sager had two distinguished careers. In the first she was a leading exponent of organelle, non-nuclear genetics; in the second she was a major innovator in cancer genetics, proposing, discovering, and investigating roles of tumor suppressor genes. At the pinnacle of research on the problem of non-nuclear or cytoplasmic genetics for many years, she almost single-handedly developed this subject of non-Mendelian, cytoplasmic genetics ("A vast, unexplored region of genetics was opened here today" [1963]). The very existence of hereditary determinants other than nuclear genes was doubted by a large part of the scientific community, although it was proposed in 1908 from observations on higher plants. Sager gathered data and argued in support of a second genetic system in the face of great skepticism and finally made this a respectable and exciting major area of genetics. 

Very early Sager believed that genetics was the core of biology; she knew she was right and she set out to prove it. She never ceased introducing new techniques and concepts into her field, but she found her work ignored until her discoveries proved the majority wrong. But she never really paid a lot of attention to what other people think. 

She was described in her fifties as "a calmly articulate and attractive woman (who looks younger by about 15 years) a tall, striking brunette with a ready smile and a voice that carries a merry lilt." She early described herself as "probably the happiest person I know."

Her legacy is expressed in the quotation: "For more than half a century Ruth Sager has been a role model for women in health-related scientific research. She demonstrated vision, insight and determination to develop novel scientific concepts in the face of established dogmas. Her pioneering researches and original ideas continue to make contributions to biology." 

Throughout her career Ruth maintained a sharp focus on the areas of her own research and a companion concern for the direction and support of science and of candidates for scientific careers. She was an excellent and often a lone model for women attracted to scientific careers although she was not a visible feminist. 

Not at all narrowly devoted to her science, Sager had numerous outside interests: modern art, travel, music and theater, a rich social life, and she was a fine cook. She took up tennis late in life and played it with great enthusiasm--in spite of limited ability. She was especially fond of relaxing at Woods Hole, where she had a cherished second home, and where she is buried. 

Of her career as a scientist Ruth was quoted as saying: "Science is very demanding. You have to really love it. Science is a way of life. I think it all comes from inside. It really gets to the very core of your existence. It is much like being an artist or a dancer."