Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (1946/1947a) Curt Stern Papers, Hermann J. Muller File, URL: http://amphilsoc.org

  • American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (1946/1947b) Curt Stern Papers, Ernst Caspari File, URL: http://amphilsoc.org

  • Bolt HM, Marchan R, Hengstler JG (2009) Low-dose extrapolation in toxicology: an old controversy revisited. Arch Toxicol 83:197–198

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Calabrese EJ (2009) The road to linearity: why linearity at low doses became the basis for carcinogen risk assessment. Arch Toxicol 83:203–225

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Calabrese EJ (2011) Key studies used to support cancer risk assessment questioned. Environ Mol Mut 52 (in press)

  • Calabrese EJ, Baldwin LA (2003) Toxicology rethinks its central belief. Nature 421:691–692

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Carlson EA (1981) Genes, radiation, and society: the life and work of H.J. Muller. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, http://www.hathitrust.org

  • Caspari E, Stern C (1948) The influence of chronic irradiation with gamma-rays at low dosages on the mutation rate in Drosophila melaogaster. Genetics 33:75–95

    Google Scholar 

  • Hanson FB, Heys F (1929) An analysis of the effect of the different rays of radium in producing lethal mutations in Drosophila. Am Nat 63:201–213

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 66:335–345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoffmann GR (2009) A perspective on the scientific, philosophical, and policy dimensions of hormesis. Dose-Response 7:1–51

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Muller HJ (1927) Artificial transmutation of the gene. Science 66:84–87

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • National Academy of Sciences (1977) Safe drinking Water Committee. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington DC

  • Oliver CP (1930) The effect of varying the duration of X-ray treatment upon the frequency of mutation. Science 71:44–46

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Serebrovsky AS, Dubinin NP (1930) X-ray experiments with Drosophila. J Hered 21:259–265

    Google Scholar 

  • Stadler LJ (1930) Some genetic effects of X-rays in plants. J Hered 21:3–19

    Google Scholar 

  • 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. 13

  • Weinstein A (1928) The production of mutations and rearrangements of genes by X-rays. Science LXVII:376–377

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edward J. Calabrese.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Calabrese, E.J. Muller’s Nobel lecture on dose–response for ionizing radiation: ideology or science?. Arch Toxicol 85, 1495–1498 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00204-011-0728-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00204-011-0728-8

Keywords

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