National Academies Press: OpenBook

Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62 (1993)

Chapter: Battlefield, Laboratory, Classroom

Suggested Citation:"Battlefield, Laboratory, Classroom." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"Battlefield, Laboratory, Classroom." National Academy of Sciences. 1993. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 62. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2201.
Page 45

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JOHN NATHANIEL COUCH 44 THE INTERMEDIATE YEARS: GRADUATE TRAINING Battlefield, Laboratory, Classroom Events an ocean away deterred Couch's immediate plans for graduate school. World War I and Uncle Sam called. Service as a private with Company B, 56 Pioneer Infantry, took him to Belgium, France, and Germany from August 5, 1918, to July 27, 1919. However, while waiting to be mustered out and sent home after the Armistice, he managed to spend four months studying botany at L'Université de Nancy in France. Upon his return to Chapel Hill in 1919, John began his formal graduate work at UNC under Dr. Coker's supervision. In order to pay for and while continuing his studies, he also taught science at Chapel Hill High School and the following year at Alexander Graham High School in Charlotte. After finishing a master of arts degree in botany in 1922 with his thesis, "Spore Formation and Discharge in Some Genera of Water Molds," Couch became an instructor in the UNC Botany Department as he continued his Ph.D. studies. Thus began Couch's faculty association with the university and the department that was to continue for over half a century. The doctoral degree was conferred two years later. Couch's dissertation, "Sexual Reproduction and Variability in the Genus Dictyuchus," included the report of his discovery of the mode of sexual reproduction, called heterothallism, in the water mold Dictyuchus. Some believe that his dissertation may have been his most significant contribution to mycology. In it he described for the first time separate "male" and "female" strains in Dictyuchus. While studying the physiology of sex in some members of this genus, he observed that the male branches were attracted over relatively long distances by the female. This observation ultimately led to the discovery of sex hormones in Oomycota

JOHN NATHANIEL COUCH 45 by John R. Raper, one of Couch's first graduate students, whom Couch introduced to Achlya. Later still, hormone A, stored for years after Raper's initial research, was characterized as the first steroid hormone of nonanimal origin by another of Couch's students, Alma Wiffin Barksdale, and by Trevor McMorris at the New York Botanical Garden.1 The original work of Raper on Achlya contributed to his election to the National Academy of Sciences. The chain of events in this research exemplifies the multiplier effects of Couch's observations and the span of his influence. Except for the summer of 1923, when Couch studied with Professors E. M. Gilbert and C. E. Allen at the University of Wisconsin, all of his graduate work was done with Dr. Coker. The culmination of their years of collaboration, The Gasteromycetes of the Eastern United States and Canada, was published in 1928, although it is clear that as an instructor with Coker, Couch was an important contributor to The Saprolegniaceae, published in 1923. It was probably this latter effort that most imbued Couch with a lifelong love of the aquatic fungi. His initial work with Dictyuchus was so revolutionary for oomycetes at that time that he was awarded a National Research Council fellowship for postdoctoral work under the direction of A. F. Blakeslee at the Carnegie Institution at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York, for one year and with B. M. Duggar at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis for an additional year. The stint with Blakeslee was particularly appropriate because it was Blakeslee and his colleagues who first showed just after the turn of the century that Mucorales were strictly homothallic or heterothallic. With Duggar he most assuredly was introduced to the intricacies of spore dormancy and germination phenomena. In the summer of 1926, between his two postdoctoral appointments, Couch jumped at the chance to spend two

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Biographic Memoirs: Volume 62 contains the biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences and bibliographies of their published works. Each biographical essay was written by a member of the Academy familiar with the professional career of the deceased. For historical and bibliographical purposes, these volumes are worth returning to time and again.

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