April 14, 2005 • Volume 13 Number15
Biologist Yu-Chen Ting Dies; Specialized in Plant Genetics
Prof. Emeritus Yu-Chen Ting (Biology), who relied more on his green thumb for his research than external funding, died on April 2. He was 84.
A native of Honan, China, Prof. Ting was a geneticist who became a specialist in characterizing mutant varieties of corn. In 1953, while a research assistant at Louisiana State University, he achieved prominence when he and associate professor August Kehr announced that they had established the number of chromosomes - 90 - in the sweet potato, a food staple for millions in China.
Reporting on the scientists' discovery, the Boston Globe noted, "Man's inability to count the sweet potato's chromosomes had so far stymied all efforts to improve the plant by making it bigger, tastier and - above all - disease resistant."
Prof. Ting came to BC as an assistant professor in 1962, and became full professor in 1967. At BC, he grew, selected, and characterized new corn mutants for many decades, as his former student and colleague Prof. Anthony Annunziato (Biology) recalled.
"He was an extraordinarily dedicated researcher," said Annunziato. "He worked with little money, cultivating the corn plants that he grew in the old greenhouse next to Higgins Hall, or across the street in the open space next to Hovey House - which I am sure is the most valuable cornfield in the nation."
Prof. Ting published many technical papers on his research in corn genetics, including analyses of chromosome duplication in maize, genomic relationships between maize and its wild relatives, and possible genetic introgression between maize and teosinte, a wild relative of maize that grows in Central America.
According to Annunziato, Prof. Ting's last major discovery, made around the time of his retirement in 1990, was a self-cloning corn plant that grew small plants from its crown instead of tassels.
Prof. Ting received a bachelor's degree from National Honan University in 1944, master's degrees from the University of Kentucky and Cornell University, and a doctoral degree from Louisiana State University. Prior to arriving at BC, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.
DeLuca Professor Marc Muskavitch, chairman of the Biology Department, said, "With Yu-Chen Ting's passing, we have lost the company of a warm, dedicated, gentle soul."
Prof. Ting is survived by his wife, Jovina, a former faculty member in the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department; a son, Andrew, a doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City; and a daughter, Claire, a biology professor at Williams College.
-Sean Smith, with additional material from Biology Senior Scientist John Roche •