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Sang, James Henderson, 1912-2002 (biologist and geneticist)



James Henderson Sang was born in Aberdeen on 04 November 1912. His secondary education took place at Robert Gordon's College, and his interest in biology was encouraged by membership of the Aberdeen and District Working Men's Natural History Society. He went on to graduate in 1935 with a first class honours degree in Zoology at the University of Aberdeen, where he was influenced by working with Professor J.R. Macleod (Nobel Laureate) and James Ritchie (Regius Chair of Natural History). In 1937 Sang received a Hutchison Research Scholarship from St John's College, Cambridge, which enabled him to commence study for a doctoral degree (which he received in 1941).

Sang returned to the University of Aberdeen in 1938 when he gained a Carnegie Senior Research Scholarship, and in March 1939 he became assistant to Lancelot Hogben, who had succeeded Ritchie as Professor of Natural History. During this period his main focus of research was on the ecological determinants of population growth in Drosophila melanogaster and on the effects of diet on the variable expression of the gene Antennaless, which latter research he carried out with Cecil Gordon. Gordon and Sang's paper 'The relation between nutrition and exhibition of the gene 'Antennaless' (Drosophila melanogaster), published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1941, was important in the way it demonstrated the interplay between heredity and environment, although according to some it did not receive the recognition it deserved.

Sang spent the war years from 1942 onwards working in aircraft supplies for the Air Ministry, and by January 1946 was established in the Statistician Class of the Civil Service (Air Division, Ministry of Supply). In July 1948, Sang was appointed Principal Scientific Research Officer at the Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organisation (ABGRO, later ABRO) within Edinburgh's Institute of Animal Genetics. Sang took on the role of general supervisor of the affairs of the Institute, which housed the scientific staff of the Organisation as well as Institute staff employed by the University. However, tensions soon arose among the staff of the Organisation and the section's director, C.H Waddington, compounded by their all sharing accommodation at Mortonhall House just outside Edinburgh. The situation led to a top-level enquiry by the Agricultural Research Council in October 1950, and led to the separation of the animal breeders from the experimental geneticists, who became incorporated into the Unit of Animal Genetics, under Waddington. At the same time, Waddington, who also held the University Chair of Animal Genetics, became a full-time employee of the University rather than of the Agricultural Research Council.

In 1951 Sang moved to the adjacent Poultry Research Centre (PRC) as Principal Scientific Officer. In 1958 he became assistant director under Alan Greenwood. At the PRC, Sang continued his studies on Drosophila and in 1956 he published an important paper 'The Qualitative Nutritional Requirements of Drosophila melanogaster'.

In 1965 Sang was offered a professorship in the biology school of the University of Sussex, where he alternated as Dean of the School of Biological Sciences with John Maynard Smith. This opportunity enabled Sang to create a research school devoted to the study of Drosophila development, and was to prove the most academically fruitful period of his career. He developed methods of manipulating early embryos, using molecular biology to tackle problems which he had developed over the course of his research. In 1959 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He served as a member of the Council of the Society for Experimental Biology, Chairman of the Poultry Breeders' Roundtable and member of the Editorial Board of the Quarterly Review of Biology. He was also a Life Member of the Genetics Society of Great Britain as well as an active trade union member throughout his life.

James Sang retired in 1979 but continued to publish research on Drosophila as well as a book titled Developmental Genetics (London, 1984). James Sang died on 10 February 2002.

Found in 41 Collections and/or Records:

Utilization of dietary purines and pyrimidines by Drosophila melanogaster, 1956

Identifier: Coll-1362/3/127
Scope and Contents

Located in Poultry Research Centre Staff Papers 1953-57.

Dates: 1956