John Joseph Bittner Biography – American Geneticist and Cancer Biologist

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Who is John Joseph Bittner? Information on John Joseph Bittner biography, life story, works and discoveries.

John Joseph Bittner

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John Joseph Bittner; (1904-1961), American biologist, whose work contributed to the theory that cancer is caused by a virus. Throughout the 1930’s, Bittner worked in cancer research on carefully inbred strains of mice. Some strains were found to be very prone to develop cancer spontaneously, while other strains were found to be very resistant to the disease. This observation made it seem that the tendency to cancer was inherited. However, by 1936, Bittner observed that newborn mice of a cancer-resistant strain transferred to the breast of a foster mother of the cancer prone strain became very prone to the disease. Similarly, new-born mice of the cancer-prone strain transferred to the breast of a foster mother of the cancer-resistant strain became very resistant to the disease. It was as though the tendency to cancer was not inherited after all but was infectious and imbibed with the mother’s milk.

The “milk factor” responsible for the contagion was identified in 1949, when particles were found to exist in the milk of mothers of the cancer-prone strains but not in the milk of the cancer-resistant strains. The particles were found to be virus-sized and to contain nucleic acid. These discoveries strengthened the view that some forms of cancer were essentially of virus origin.

Bittner was born in Meadville, Pa., on Feb. 25, 1904, and received his doctorate in genetics from the University of Michigan in 1930. He joined the staff of the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1942 and remained there until his death in Minneapolis on Dec. 14, 1961.

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