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Blast from the Past: J.T. Patterson

Blast from the Past: J.T. Patterson
Professor Emeritus of Zoology John T. Patterson (1878-1960) in the lab. Photo (date taken unknown) appeared in The Daily Texan Nov. 21, 1950. Courtesy of the Center for American History.
jt patterson

Back in the days when John T. Patterson was rambling around in the Hill Country west of Austin hunting for pregnant armadillos, he often encountered “hill people”—described by former university president T.S. Painter in a biography of Patterson as backcountry folks who were likely leery of a college professor from Austin.

But “Dr. Pat,” as his students called him, probably quickly put the hill people at ease with the outspoken candor, quick wit and jovial temperament for which he was well known.

It’s hard to imagine such a large gulf between town and gown now, when “hill people” are more likely to be suburbanites playing a round of golf at Steiner Ranch. But one thing for sure hasn’t changed: armadillos still root around those hills in search of bugs.

Patterson published one of his most well known papers on those armadillos not long after he arrived at the university in 1908. In the paper, he worked out the entire story behind the creature’s curious embryology. The “little armored ones” always give birth to identical quadruplets, a result of a single fertilized embryo splitting into four.

After armadillos, Patterson went on to lead research on the genetics, evolution and diversity of Drosophila fruit flies, along with colleagues like Painter, Wilson Stone and Nobel Laureate Herman Muller. He helped establish the first reputable biology library on campus and saw the completion of the first building dedicated to zoology and botany.

According to James Crow, a former graduate student of Patterson’s and professor emeritus of genetics at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Patterson, more than any other person, was responsible for converting the zoology department at The University of Texas at Austin into one of world renown.

Patterson’s name is now forever associated with a 6-story building on the corner of 24th and Speedway that houses faculty in the School of Biological Sciences. It’s but one symbol of the impact Dr. Pat had on university’s zoology program and the larger field of genetics.
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Monday, 30 January 2023

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