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Reginald Ruggles Gates (1882-1962): botanist, cytologist and anthropologist. FRS 1931.

Gates was born in Middleton, Nova Scotia, Canada. He was educated at Middleton High School, going on to take a BSc at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick in 1903. He was Demonstrator in Botany at McGill University, 1905; PhD, Senior Fellow and Assistant, University of Chicago, 1906-1909. He held scholarships at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1904-08 and worked as a researcher at Missouri Botanical Gardens, 1910-11. From 1912-14 he was Lecturer in Biology at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. He lectured on cytology at Bedford College, London in 1912 and 1914, and on Heredity in relation to Cytology at Oxford University in 1914. In 1915-16 he was Associate Professor in Zoology, University of California. From 1917-18 he served as an Instructor in aerial gunnery with the Royal Flying Corps. In 1919 he was appointed Reader in Botany at Kings’ College, London, becoming Professor in 1921 until his retirement in 1942.

During the 1920s Gates undertook a series of expeditions: to the Amazon (1925), Russian plant breeding stations (1926), Canadian Arctic (1928), and South Africa (1929). He was Secretary of the Society of Experimental Biology, 1923-1928 and served on the Councils of many other scientific societies including the Eugenics Society, Royal Anthropological Institute (1927-33; 1935-37), Linnean Society (1928-32), Royal Society (Vice President, 1931-32), and the Royal Microscopical Society (Secretary, 1928-30; President, 1930-32).

His election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1931 honoured him as ‘a distinguished investigator of cytological problems’, especially in connection with his research on the evening primrose Oenothera which had formed the basis of Hugo de Vries’ mutation theory. The Royal Society acknowledged his important role in the training cytological students.

After retiring from the professorship at King’s Gates held a number of visiting lectureships and fellowships, including a Research Fellowship in Biology at Harvard University, 1946-50. He was Honorary President of the 7th International Botanical Congress in Stockholm, 1950, and of the 8th Botanical Congress in Paris in 1954. Gates’ interest in ‘genetical anthropology’ began in the late 1920s, and in the 1940s and 1950s he became more involved in the study of anthropology and human genetics.

In the 1950s he embarked on many new anthropological expeditions: South America, Japan, Africa, Australasia, New Zealand, India, Iran and the Far East. In addition to numerous articles on cytology and genetics his publications included The mutation factor in evolution, with particular reference to Oenothera (1915); Heredity and Eugenics (1923); A botanist in the Amazon Valley (1927); Heredity and Man (1929); Human Genetics (1946); Human Ancestry (1948); Pedigrees of Negro Families (1949); Genetic Linkage in Man (1955). He married Dr Marie Stopes in 1911 (annulled 1916), Jennie Williams in 1929 (dissolved), and in 1955 Laura Greer.

See also:

J. A. Fraser Roberts, ‘Reginald Ruggles Gates, 1882-1962’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 10 (1964): 83-106

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