Centers & InstitutesCenters_%26_Institutes.html

The Institute of Human Biology is a research unit of the University of Michigan dedicated to the discovery of fundamental principles of biology, which may be of importance to man and in the application of biological principles to human affairs. Special attention is given to the solution of problems requiring the services of research teams, the maintenance of breeding strains of vertebrates, or many years of detailed measurement of populations and of communities. The results of the investigations are made available through publications, personal advice to families and to professional workers, and the training of graduate students.

The Institute is supported in part from the regular budget of the University. Certain of its larger research projects, however, are supported by grants from sources outside the University. Much help is also given by small and large gifts from persons who are interested in the research and public service programs of the Institute.

No formal administrative subdivisions of the Institute are recognized. Instead, the program is organized around research teams. Many of the staff members serve at the same time on two or more teams. The internal organization of the Institute is consequently very informal.

The mode of heredity of racial characters and the factors which control the evolution of races and species receive special attention in the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology. The experimental animals are for the most part the small rodents of the North American genus Peromyscus, which sometimes are called deer mice or white-footed mice. The colony averages about 5,000 living animals. More than 125,000 individual mice have been reared to marking age since our studies of this genus were begun. The numerous pedigreed strains which are maintained provide facilities for a wide variety of investigations.

One major program is concerned with the heredity and adaptive value of racial characters. In Peromyscus certain races have been shown to exhibit characters which are adaptive in relation to color of the soil or to other features of the habitat. Another major program considers the heredity of epilepsy and related behavioral disorders. In several strains an affected individual can be induced to have a convulsive seizure by exposure to high-pitched sounds. In one strain certain chemical odors induce convulsions. In other strains whirling types of behavior, tremors, or ataxic gait are inherited.

Research and counseling in the field of medical genetics are conducted by the Heredity Clinic, which acts as an outpatient clinic of the University Hospital. Any person who has a problem in family heredity may come directly to the Clinic for advice. Physicians, dentists, probate judges, ministers, priests, social workers, and other persons responsible for the public welfare also may refer families to the Clinic for advice about heredity. No fees are charged, but a charge may be made for examinations or hospital services, which are required. An average of about 250 kindreds a year is accepted for study and advice.

Among the research projects now being conducted by the Clinic are those, which deal with the rate of mutation of the genes responsible for multiple polyposis of the colon and for neurofibromatosis, with the heredity of various defects of the eye, with the genetics of various anemias, and with the effects of atomic radiation in producing mutations in man.

The biogeographic investigations being conducted by the Institute are directed primarily toward an analysis of the geographic patterns displayed by reptiles and amphibians in the Central American isthmian region. Much is to be learned, through a study of the distribution of extant forms, concerning faunal movements and faunal origins of the various elements that characterize the great continental areas to the north and south of the isthmian link. A no less important phase of the work centers around the development of a concept of regionality. As Central America appears to lend no definite support either to the life-zone or to the biotic-area regional concepts, some new approach to the problem must be developed.

The Community Dynamics Section has as its major objective the analysis of the structure, organization, controlling mechanisms, and evolution of ecologic communities, including those which have been modified by man or in which man is a conspicuous member. Much activity of the Section is centered at the Edwin S. George Reserve, where a long-term investigation of the animal and plant life of an abandoned field is being conducted. It is proposed later to apply to studies of human communities the principles and techniques derived from this investigation of a natural community.

The Institute has conducted numerous other investigations. Special mention may be made of those on the genetic effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese peoples, in which the Institute has co-operated with the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. An important series of studies, supported by the American Cancer Society and by the Atomic Energy Commission, deals with the rate of mutation for certain characters in human populations. Other extensive research is concerned with the effects of assortative mating on the heredity of a city population. The relation of heredity to human special abilities is still another major project.

The Institute is not a teaching unit, but some members of the staff, through the teaching departments, offer instruction in such subjects as zoogeography, animal geography, history of zoology, ecologic communities, human communities, physical anthropology, and human genetics. Staff members offer courses in particular phases of biology. Members of the staff also direct the research of students who are candidates for the doctorate in certain aspects of genetics, ecology, or biogeography.

Annual Reports, of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology to 1949-50 and of the Institute of Human Biology thereafter, have been issued since 1945. Seventy-two numbers of the Contributions from the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology (… Vertebrate Genetics between 1936 and 1942) have been published through 1955. A series of Papers of the Institute of Human Biology has recently been authorized. The Circulars of the Institute contain material of temporary value.

Each of the several units, which compose the Institute of Human Biology has had an independent history, and the names of some of them have been changed from time to time.

Laboratory of mammalian genetics. — The history of the Institute goes back to the time of President Clarence Cook Little, who, when he became President of the University in 1925, brought with him a number of strains of laboratory mice which he had been using for studies of animal genetics. The Board of Regents made a small appropriation for support of his research (R.P., 1923-26, p. 671). Other funds were supplied by sources outside the University. The studies of Dr. Little and his associates were largely concerned with the heredity of the domestic house-mouse, Mus musculus, and of a related species, Mus bactrianus, from China, particular attention being given to inherited susceptibility and immunity to cancer.

In September 1927, the "President's Laboratory" was officially designated the "Laboratory of Mammalian Genetics (in co-operation with the Cancer Research Fund," R.P., 1926-29, p. 322). At this time Alvalyn Eunice Woodward (Rochester '05, Ph.D. Michigan '18) and Leonell Clarence Strong (Allegheny '17, Ph.D. Columbia '22) were made Research Associates in the Laboratory. Assistants and fellows were added. Both Horace Wenger Feldman (Purdue '21, Sc.D. Harvard '25) and Lee Raymond Dice (Stanford '11, Ph.D. California '15) were made honorary research associates. Quarters were provided in the East Medical Building. When Little resigned in 1929 and founded the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Maine, Strong and most of Little's other associates went with him, and all their breeding stocks of mice were transferred to the Jackson Laboratory.

Laboratory of vertebrate genetics. — After Little's resignation Feldman and Dice continued studies of mammalian genetics at the University. Feldman when he became Instructor in Zoology in 1927 had brought stocks of house mice and house-rats to the University from Bussey Institution, Harvard University. To enable him to continue his studies of the heredity of these mammals he was given laboratory space in the Natural Science Building. Later, he expanded his research with certain stocks of the deermouse (Peromyscus) and of the woodrat (Neotoma). His work was at first supported by the Department of Zoology and by the Faculty Research Fund.

When Jan Metzelaar (Sc.D. Amsterdam '19) became Fisheries Expert of the Michigan Department of Conservation in 1923, he brought with him from Holland a stock of pigeons, which he was using in heredity studies. In 1925 he was made a Special Investigator in the Division of Birds of the Museum of Zoology. His work was supported in part by the Museum of Zoology, in part by grants from the Faculty Research Fund, and in part from his own pocket. Temporary pens for the pigeons were constructed behind the Museum of Zoology Annex at 539 East University Avenue. Later, the pigeons were moved to the second floor of a frame building on Church Street; on the first floor were rabbits, which were being studied by Dice and his students. When this building was torn down in 1927, the pigeons were moved to specially constructed flight cages and pens near Glen Avenue. After the death of Metzelaar by drowning in October 1929, the pigeon investigations were taken over by Feldman.

Pigeons evidently could not be classed as mammals and consequently the Laboratory of Mammalian Genetics was, in January 1930, redesignated the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics (R.P., 1929-32, p. 160). In May of the same year Feldman was appointed Director of the Laboratory.

Section of mammalian research. — Studies of variation and heredity of the mice of the genus Peromyscus were begun in 1923 by Dice, who at that time was Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Zoology. In that year twelve deermice were brought from northern Michigan, and these became the ancestors of a thriving stock. Other stocks were acquired in the following years. The animals at first were kept in the old Museum Annex, a former dwelling house then occupied by the divisions of Mammals and of Fishes of the Museum of Zoology and now replaced by the East Engineering annex. In November 1923, when the Division of Mammals was moved to the second floor of Morris Hall, at the corner of State and Jefferson streets, the mice were also moved to that building.

Dice brought stocks of deer mice and a few chipmunks, pikas, cottontails, and jackrabbits from expeditions to Colorado in 1924 and 1925. For a time a stock of "singing" house mice was also kept. Other stocks of Peromyscus were collected locally or were secured from other sources, and the number of cages of mice rapidly increased.

The space available in Morris Hall for rearing experimental animals having become overcrowded, the live mice were transferred in May, 1926, to a large room on the fourth floor of old University Hall, which had been condemned as a fire hazard. Although University Hall was not well adapted for keeping live mammals, any space at all was welcome. The floor of the room assigned as a Peromyscus laboratory, for instance, was of wood, and the cracks formed a favorable habitat for fleas. There was much difficulty in providing effective mouse proofing, with the result that some professors on the lower floors of the building complained about escaped mice, which invaded their sanctuaries. Only a single washbasin was available for washing the cages. The building had no elevator, and all food had to be carried up three flights of stairs. These stairs were long and steep, for the ceilings were high and the distances between floors were great.

Fortunately, Hertler Brothers, who supplied most of the rolled oats and other animal food, had as their deliveryman a powerful fellow, who said he was lazy. This man objected to making the many trips needed to carry up the numerous 100-pound sacks of mouse food. Consequently, he usually carried two sacks at a time up these long flights of stairs! For a time, also, a University trackman was employed as a part-time student assistant. He made a habit of taking a 100-pound bag of food or other supplies on his shoulder and running all the way up the stairs to the fourth floor. He said it helped his "wind." The elderly janitors, however, who had to carry the garbage cans of debris from the mouse rooms down these stairs, were very unhappy about their task. They were delighted when the mice were moved in February 1928, from the fourth floor of University Hall to two large laboratories in the newly completed Museums Building.

The rabbits, which for a time had been kept in Morris Hall, were moved in May 1926, to the first floor of a wooden building, a former residence, on Church Street, just north of the East Engineering Building. The pigeons already occupied the second floor of this building at that time. A student investigator, Wallace Grange, and his wife lived for a time in several basement rooms. When this building was torn down in 1927, the investigations of rabbit genetics were discontinued and the stocks were disposed of.

A valuable group of stocks of Peromyscus was received in 1930 by gift from Francis B. Sumner of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California. Dr. Sumner was the first to use Peromyscus on a large scale as a laboratory animal for studies of variability within and among populations. Because of a change in policy in his institution he was forced to give up his research on this animal (Science, 72, 1930: 477-78). Dice transferred all his stocks to the University of Michigan for further study.

Until 1932 the expense of keeping the live Peromyscus and other experimental animals which were under study by Dice and his students had been borne in part by the Division of Mammals in the Museum of Zoology and in part by grants from the Faculty Research Fund, the National Research Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In July, 1932, a special budget in mammalian research was created under the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics, through transfer of funds from the Museum of Zoology and from a small additional appropriation by the Board of Regents.

Laboratory of vertebrate biology. — In April 1934, Dice was appointed Director of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics, replacing Feldman, who resigned in June. The budget for mammalian research at this time became merged with that of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics. Frank H. Clark (Maine '24, Ph.D. Harvard '34) was appointed Research Associate in the Laboratory in July 1934. The stocks of housemice, rats, and pigeons kept by Feldman were disposed of. Some strains of housemice, brought by Clark from the Bussey Institution, were kept until he had completed his study of them. The stocks of live Peromyscus were moved late in 1934 from the Museums Building to the Laboratory building.

Professor Dice continued as Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Zoology and his salary was paid by the Museum until 1938, when the budget of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics included part and later all of it.

William Franklin Blair (Tulsa '34, Ph.D. Michigan '38) became Research Associate on a half-time basis in the Laboratory in 1937, replacing Clark, who left the University. At the same time Elizabeth Barto (Montana '30, A.M. Oregon '32) became Secretary and Research Assistant.

The research program of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics had come to include studies of animal ecology and behavior, which could not properly be called genetics. In recognition of this broadening of its interests, the Board of Regents in March 1942 changed the name of the unit to Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology (R.P., 1939-42, p. 910).

The expense of expeditions to collect breeding stocks of small mammals and to study the characters of the environments under which the various races and species live in nature was borne from 1924 to 1939 mostly by special grants from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in which Dice was a Research Associate. Other funds for expeditions to collect breeding stocks were given by the Museum of Zoology, the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics, the Faculty Research Fund, and by Bryant Walker, William P. Harris, Jr., Gustavus D. Pope, Philip M. Blossom, and others. Many valuable stocks have come also by donation from former students and other persons interested in these studies.

The years of World War II were difficult for the Laboratory as they were for all other units not contributing directly to the war effort. Blair was on leave with the Army from March 1943, to April 1946. All other able-bodied male graduate students who might have served as research assistants were also drafted. With the help of women student assistants, however, it was possible to keep alive the more important breeding strains of Peromyscus and to prepare as specimens those individuals which it was most essential to preserve for later study.

During this period young women performed practically all the work of the Laboratory, including feeding and watering the animals, cleaning the cages, preparing specimens, and keeping records. Elizabeth Barto was made a Junior Biologist in 1943 and placed in charge of the operations of the Laboratory, while the Director devoted almost all of his attention to the Heredity Clinic. All fieldwork was discontinued, and the stocks of live mice were reduced to the lowest level of safety. Through the devoted services of Miss Barto and her assistants the Laboratory suffered no serious loss of breeding stocks.

Studies of the genetics of butterflies were initiated in March 1946, when William Hovanitz (California '38, Ph.D. California Institute of Technology '43) was appointed a Collaborator in the Laboratory. He was made Assistant Biologist in September 1946, following the resignation of Blair, who took a position at the University of Texas. Hovanitz left the University in July 1948, and the studies of butterflies were abandoned.

William B. McIntosh (Virginia Polytechnic Institute '46, Ph.D. Michigan '54) was appointed Research Associate in 1951 and since then has been in charge of the operations of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology. He became Junior Biologist in 1952.

Philip Moss Blossom, of Los Angeles, California, was actively associated with Dice during the early 1930's in fieldwork in Arizona and Sonora. These studies resulted in a monograph on desert mammals by Dice and Blossom, published by the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Blossom has continued to assist in the work of the Laboratory by collecting breeding stocks in the field and by gifts of much needed laboratory equipment. In recognition of his assistance in 1949 he was given the title of Collaborator in the Laboratory.

Among those who have co-operated from time to time with the Laboratory in studies of Peromyscus and other organisms special mention should be made of Marion T. Hall, Claude W. Hibbard, Clement L. Markert, A. D. Moore, Curtis L. Newcombe, William Prychodko, and Frederick E. Smith.

Animals, which exhibited serious defects of behavior, were detected from time to time in the colony of Peromyscus maintained in the Laboratory. Whirling types of behavior, sometimes referred to as "waltzing," appeared in stocks from Florida, Iowa, Washington, and other states. Convulsive types of behavior (epilepsy) appeared in stocks from Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico. Strains of Peromyscus exhibiting such defects were developed, and it has been demonstrated that many of these defects are inherited. Research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health of the United States Public Health Service since 1951 have provided for an expansion of these studies.

Research conducted in this Laboratory over the past quarter century has included numerous descriptions of the variability of body dimensions and of pelage colors within populations and within races of Peromyscus. It has been demonstrated that the racial characters of these mammals are inherited, supporting the previous conclusions of F. B. Sumner. Races of the same species are generally completely interfertile, but distantly related species usually will not cross. Closely related species sometimes will cross with difficulty, but the male offspring may be sterile. The pelage colors characteristic of the several races of these animals has been shown to be correlated with the color of the soil on which the animals live. On pale desert soils the animals are mostly pale, and on dark soils they are dark. It also has been shown experimentally that individuals closely matching the color of the soil on which they are exposed have a better chance of escaping capture by owls than have individuals of the same kinds which are conspicuous against their soil background. Length of tail has also been shown to be an adaptive character among these animals. Races that inhabit forests have longer tails than do prairie forms.

Fish genetics. — An aquarium room for fishes was provided in the Museums Building, which was completed in 1928, as part of the equipment of the Museum of Zoology. Carl Leavitt Hubbs, Curator of Fishes, at that time began studies of the genetics of fishes, with particular attention to the hybridization of races, species, and genera. In recognition of his work in this field in 1932 he was given the added title of Research Associate in Vertebrate Genetics. His studies were supported in part by the Museum of Zoology, in part by grants from the Faculty Research Fund, and, beginning in 1939, in part from the budget of the Laboratory. Professor Hubbs resigned in July 1944. Karl Frank Lagler, of the Department of Zoology, became a Research Associate in the Laboratory in January 1945. With support from the Laboratory budget he carried on laboratory investigations of the genetics of the Johnny darter (Boleosoma nigrum) in collaboration with Reeve M. Bailey, Curator of Fishes in the Museum of Zoology. These studies were terminated in 1949.

Ralph O. Hile, of the Great Lakes Laboratory of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, served from 1946 to 1951 as a consultant in fish genetics with the title of Research Associate.

Section of biogeography. — Laurence Cooper Stuart ('30, Ph.D. '33) in July 1939, was appointed a Research Associate of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Genetics and was given a small budget for studies of reptile genetics. His salary continued to be paid through the Museum of Zoology, however, until July 1946, when he was given the rank of Assistant Biologist in the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology. He was promoted to Associate Biologist in 1951. The experiments in reptile genetics were later given up, chiefly because of the difficulties of getting the animals to breed in the laboratory and because of their slow rate of growth.

For many years Stuart has devoted most of his attention to the biogeographic relations of the reptile and amphibian fauna of Guatemala, a region of high topographic and biotic diversity. On this subject he has published a number of monographs and shorter papers.

Heredity clinic. — As certain inherited types of behavioral defects exhibited by Peromyscus, particularly the inherited types of epilepsy appear somewhat similar to those that occur in man, it was logical to consider the investigation of the heredity of epilepsy and of other defects in man. On application from Professor Dice the Board of Governors of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 1940 granted funds to initiate studies in human heredity. Under this grant, Charles William Cotterman (Ohio State '35, Ph.D. ibid. '40) was appointed Research Associate in 1940. After consultation with the officers of the Medical School and the University Hospital it was decided to open a Heredity Clinic. The Board of Regents, in March 1949, established the Department of Human Heredity in the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology and authorized it to conduct the Heredity Clinic in close co-operation with the University Hospital (R.P., 1939-42, pp. 580-81).

A frame building at 1135 East Catherine Street was made available by the Hospital, and the Clinic was opened to the public on November 12, 1941. Claude Nash Herndon, Jr., served as medical officer in charge, with the title of Research Associate, from September, 1941, to March, 1942. In this emergency of the war years Harold F. Falls ('32, M.D. '36), of the Department of Ophthalmology, agreed to assist. He was appointed Research Associate in April 1941, and placed in charge of the Clinic on a part-time basis. Avery Ransome Test (California '24, Ph.D. ibid. '37) was appointed half-time Research Assistant in 1942 and continued to serve until 1947. Byron Orville Hughes was appointed Research Associate in 1941 in recognition of his services as a consultant in matters dealing with physical anthropology.

Cotterman was drafted into the Army in December 1942, and served until March 1946. To assist with the work of the Clinic during these years temporary and part-time appointments were made. Among those who assisted were Allan C. Barnes, Winifred S. White, Mary Jane Lagler, Max A. Finton, Maurice T. Fiegelman, and William T. Kruse. Sidney Halperin was appointed Research Associate in October 1947, but left the University in January 1948.

James V. Neel (Wooster '35, Ph.D. Rochester '39, M.D. ibid. '44) was appointed Assistant Geneticist in May, 1946, and placed in charge of the work in human genetics. He was inducted into the Army in August of the same year. Dr. Falls again assisted in this emergency and served during Neel's absence. When Neel returned in April 1948, he was promoted to Associate Geneticist.

Charles Cotterman resigned his position as Associate Geneticist in the Clinic in October 1950. Anne V. Miller served as Junior Geneticist from September 1950, to June 1951. William J. Schull was added to the staff as Junior Geneticist in September 1951, and T. Edward Reed, also as Junior Geneticist, in September 1952. Frank W. Crowe and Franklin Martin, Jr., served as Research Associates on a part-time basis from 1951 to 1953 to assist Dr. Neel in studies, supported by the Atomic Energy Commission, on spontaneous mutation rates in human populations.

The program of research and public service carried out by the Heredity Clinic was supported for seven years almost entirely by grants from the Board of Governors of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. By this time the value of the Clinic had been well demonstrated. Beginning with the year 1947-48, a part of the support of the Clinic was provided through the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology, and in 1949-50 the entire support was so provided. It is to be emphasized that the grants for the beginning period of nine years by the Graduate School made the development of the Heredity Clinic possible.

Section of community dynamics. — Ecological studies of animals in nature had been conducted in the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology over a period of years by Dice, Blair, and their students and associates. With the desire to expand these studies Francis C. Evans (Haverford '36, D.Phil. Oxon '40) in 1948 was appointed Assistant Biologist. He promptly developed an intensive program of study of a particular old-field community situated on the Edwin S. George Reserve. In this research program he has been aided by numerous associates, of who special mention should be made of Stanley A. Cain, Pierre Dansereau, Nelson G. Hairston, Mary Talbot, and George W. Thompson. In 1952 Evans was promoted to Associate Biologist.

Among the special accomplishments of this section has been the development of new methods for measuring and describing quantitatively the spatial distribution of the individual organisms that make up an ecologic community.

Institute of human biology. — The Institute of Human Biology was organized in July 1950 (R.P., 1948-51, p. 832) as a research unit composed of the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology, the Heredity Clinic, and associated units. At the same time the Institute was dissociated administratively from the University Museums group, to which it previously had been assigned. Dice became the first Director of the Institute.

Assortative mating study. — The Assortative Mating Study, begun in 1950 as a five-year project, has been supported by a generous grant from an anonymous donor. Its objective is to discover the effects on the heredity of a city population that may be produced by the tendency of persons with similar traits to marry more frequently or less frequently than would be expected by chance.

James N. Spuhler (New Mexico '40, Ph.D. Harvard '46), of the Department of Anthropology, joined the staff in 1950, with the rank of Research Associate and was placed in charge of the Study. He was called to active duty with the Naval Reserve for the period from July 1951, to December 1952. During this time Dice was in charge of developing plans for the necessary measurements. Don J. Hager served from June to September 1951, and developed the needed socio-economic questionnaires. Neil C. Tappen served as Research Assistant from July 1951, to June 1952, and Van T. Harris was Junior Biologist from October 1951, to October, 1952, Philip J. Clark was appointed Junior Biologist in July, 1952. When Spuhler returned to the Institute in December 1952, he was given the title of Associate Biologist.

Hereditary abilities study. — An intensive study of the heredity of human special abilities was begun in May, 1952, under a three-year grant from McGregor Fund of Detroit. The study was under the direction of Dice, assisted by an advisory group consisting of Clyde H. Coombs, Professor of Psychology, E. Lowell Kelly, Director of the Bureau of Psychological Services, Howard B. Lewis, chairman of the Department of Biological Chemistry, James V. Neel of the Heredity Clinic, and J. N. Spuhler. Pairs of identical and nonidentical twins were measured in the attempt to discover which abilities are hereditary. Measurements also were made of other characters of the same individuals in the search for correlations between mental abilities and biochemical or physical traits.

Steven G. Vandenberg was appointed Junior Psychologist in May 1952. Benjamin W. White served also as Junior Psychologist from June to November 1952. Harry Eldon Sutton was appointed Assistant Biologist in August 1952, and placed in charge of the biochemical laboratory and of general operations. Philip J. Clark in July 1953 was assigned part time to this study in addition to serving with the Assortative Mating Study.

Lee R. Dice


President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1925-54.

Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1925-54.

Report … Institute of Human Biology (Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology to 1950), 1945-54.

The University of Michigan, An Encyclopedic Survey Supplement, pages 1537 - 1545

History of the University of Michigan

Institute for Human Biology