September 16, 1897–October 2, 1984
BY OLIVER E. NELSON, JR., AND RAY D. OWEN
ROYAL ALEXANDER BRINK, over a long career, was a major contributor to the development of genetics and to the improvement of major crop plants through the application of genetic principles. He is best remembered for his last major contribution, the identification and investigation of paramutation in maize—a fascinating phenomenon that contradicts the genetic axiom that contrasting alleles always segregate unaltered from their association in a heterozygous individual.
His basic contributions to genetics began with his appointment to the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in 1922 and continued for many years after his retirement in 1968. Using maize as his principal experimental organism, Alex Brink and his students demonstrated that a gene could be expressed postmeiotically in the pollen grain, reported the first explanation for semi-sterility, and mapped many mutants. In investigations of seed failure in interspecific crosses, Brink and D. C. Cooper demonstrated the critical role of the endosperm in normal seed development.
His laboratory also made early and important contributions to the study of transposable elements by showing that the unstable P-vv allele of maize resulted from the insertion of a transposable element, Mp, in a functional P allele