The Pathologist Who Went Astray
Kurt Benirschke (Figure 11.1) started his mammalian cytogenetic work in an oblique way. His interest in cytogenetics began with the problem of twinning in man. He was a pathologist at the Boston Lying-in Hospital from 1956 to 1960, and was interested in the fact that more twins died than single babies. This led him to a greater interest in the twinning process per se, and he read a considerable amount of literature on this topic, including freemartinism. Since the marmosets and the armadillos were known to be polyembryonic, Benirschke was also interested in these animals. He and his co-workers found that many marmoset twins are indeed chimeras, that is, twin embryos that have exchanged cells. They proved this conclusion by examining the chromosomes of these animals: A certain proportion of cells in females have XY chromosomes and a certain proportion of cells in males have XX chromosomes. Kurt’s interest in armadillos later led him to an adventure from Brazil to the Paraguay jungle by illicit means, trying to catch a giant armadillo. He hired a fisherman to row him upstream to cross the border and almost went to prison on his way back. Result: no catch.
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