Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 85, Issue 12, pp 1495–1498 | Cite as

Muller’s Nobel lecture on dose–response for ionizing radiation: ideology or science?

  • Edward J. CalabreseEmail author
Review Article


In his Nobel Prize Lecture of December 12, 1946, Hermann J. Muller argued that the dose–response for radiation-induced germ cell mutations was linear and that there was “no escape from the conclusion that there is no threshold”. However, assessment of correspondence between Muller and Curt Stern 1 month prior to his Nobel Prize Lecture reveals that Muller knew the results and implications of a recently completed study at the University of Rochester under the direction of Stern, which directly contradicted his Nobel Prize Lecture. This finding is of historical importance since Muller’s Nobel Lecture gained considerable international attention and is a turning point in the acceptance of the linearity model in risk assessment for germ cell mutations and carcinogens.


Linearity Threshold Hermann J. Muller Nobel Prize Risk assessment X-rays Ionizing radiation 



Effort sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Air Force Material Command, USAF, under grant number FA9550-07-1-0248. The US Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute for governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation thereon. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsement, either expressed or implied, of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research or the US Government.

Conflict of interest

The author has no conflict of interest.


  1. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (1946/1947a) Curt Stern Papers, Hermann J. Muller File, URL:
  2. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (1946/1947b) Curt Stern Papers, Ernst Caspari File, URL:
  3. Bolt HM, Marchan R, Hengstler JG (2009) Low-dose extrapolation in toxicology: an old controversy revisited. Arch Toxicol 83:197–198PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Calabrese EJ (2009) The road to linearity: why linearity at low doses became the basis for carcinogen risk assessment. Arch Toxicol 83:203–225PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Calabrese EJ (2011) Key studies used to support cancer risk assessment questioned. Environ Mol Mut 52 (in press)Google Scholar
  6. Calabrese EJ, Baldwin LA (2003) Toxicology rethinks its central belief. Nature 421:691–692PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlson EA (1981) Genes, radiation, and society: the life and work of H.J. Muller. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  8. Caspari E, Stern C (1947) The influence of chronic irradiation with gamma-rays at low dosages on the mutation rate in Drosophila melanogaster. MDDC-1200, US Atomic Energy Commission, pp 1–18. Found on the web at Hathi Trust Digital Library,
  9. Caspari E, Stern C (1948) The influence of chronic irradiation with gamma-rays at low dosages on the mutation rate in Drosophila melaogaster. Genetics 33:75–95Google Scholar
  10. Hanson FB, Heys F (1929) An analysis of the effect of the different rays of radium in producing lethal mutations in Drosophila. Am Nat 63:201–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hanson FB, Heys F (1932) Radium and lethal mutations in Drosophila further evidence of the proportionality rule from a study of the effects of equivalent doses differently applied. Am Nat 66:335–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hoffmann GR (2009) A perspective on the scientific, philosophical, and policy dimensions of hormesis. Dose-Response 7:1–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Muller HJ (1927) Artificial transmutation of the gene. Science 66:84–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. National Academy of Sciences (1977) Safe drinking Water Committee. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  15. Oliver CP (1930) The effect of varying the duration of X-ray treatment upon the frequency of mutation. Science 71:44–46PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Serebrovsky AS, Dubinin NP (1930) X-ray experiments with Drosophila. J Hered 21:259–265Google Scholar
  17. Stadler LJ (1930) Some genetic effects of X-rays in plants. J Hered 21:3–19Google Scholar
  18. Timofeeff-Ressovsky NW, Zimmer KG, Delbruck M (1935) Nachrichten von der gesellschaft der wissenschaften zu Gottingen. Uber die nature der genmutation und der genstruktur Biologie Band I, Nr. 13Google Scholar
  19. Weinstein A (1928) The production of mutations and rearrangements of genes by X-rays. Science LXVII:376–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Health Sciences, Department of Public HealthSchool of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

Personalised recommendations