George Harrison Shull

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George Harrison Shull
Born(1874-04-15)April 15, 1874
Clark Co., Ohio,
DiedSeptember 28, 1954 (1954-09-29) (aged 80)
Princeton, New Jersey
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Chicago
Awards Public Welfare Medal (1948)
Scientific career
Fields genetics
Author abbrev. (botany) Shull

George Harrison Shull (April 15, 1874 – September 28, 1954) was an eminent American plant geneticist [1] and the younger brother of botanical illustrator and plant breeder J. Marion Shull. He was born on a farm in Clark County, Ohio, graduated from Antioch College in 1901 and from the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) in 1904, served as botanical expert to the Bureau of Plant Industry in 1903-04, and thenceforth was a botanical investigator of the Carnegie Institution at the Station for Experimental Evolution, Cold Spring Harbor, N. Y., giving special attention to the results of Luther Burbank's work.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Geneticist biologist who studies genetics

A geneticist is a biologist who studies genetics, the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organisms.

James Marion Shull (1872–1948) was an American botanist known for his iris cultivars and botanical illustrations.


Shull played an important role in the development of hybrid maize (in the USA, popularly 'corn') which had great impact upon global agriculture. As a geneticist, Shull worked with maize plants. He was interested in pure breeds not for their economic value but for his experiments in genetics. He produced maize breeds that bred true and then crossed these strains. The hybrid offspring of the sickly pure breeds were vigorous and predictable. In short, an ideal economic maize resulted from a project motivated purely to advance science. [2] For his work on maize, Shull was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1948. [3]

Hybrid (biology) offspring of cross-species reproduction

In biology, a hybrid is the offspring resulting from combining the qualities of two organisms of different breeds, varieties, species or genera through sexual reproduction. Hybrids are not always intermediates between their parents, but can show hybrid vigour, sometimes growing larger or taller than either parent. The concept of a hybrid is interpreted differently in animal and plant breeding, where there is interest in the individual parentage. In genetics, attention is focused on the numbers of chromosomes. In taxonomy, a key question is how closely related the parent species are.

Maize Cereal grain

Maize, also known as corn, is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The leafy stalk of the plant produces pollen inflorescences and separate ovuliferous inflorescences called ears that yield kernels or seeds, which are fruits.

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

He also described heterosis in maize in 1908 (the term heterosis was coined by Shull in 1914) and made a number of other key discoveries in the emerging field of genetics. Shull was the founder of the scientific journal Genetics .

Heterosis, hybrid vigor, or outbreeding enhancement, is the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring. An offspring is heterotic if its traits are enhanced as a result of mixing the genetic contributions of its parents. These effects can be due to Mendelian or non-Mendelian inheritance.

<i>Genetics</i> (journal) scientific journal

Genetics is a monthly scientific journal publishing investigations bearing on heredity, genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology. Genetics is published by the Genetics Society of America. It has a delayed open access policy, and makes articles available online without a subscription after 12 months have elapsed since first publication. Since 2010, it is published online-only. George Harrison Shull was the founding editor of Genetics in 1916.

He was called George in distinction from his son Harrison Shull (1923–2003), also a distinguished scientist, specializing in the quantum mechanics of small-molecule electronic spectra. [4]

Work with Luther Burbank

Shull worked with Luther Burbank from 1906 to 1914 in an attempt to publish Burbank's plant work on the behalf of the Carnegie Institution. Ultimately unable to get Burbank's full cooperation, and finding that in the Luther Burbank Press's 1914 publication Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, Their Practical Application "considerable sections are almost word for word the same as my ... manuscript," Shull never published his work. [5]

Luther Burbank American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science

Luther Burbank was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank's varied creations included fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables. He developed a spineless cactus and the plumcot.

Personal life

Shull married Ella Amanda Hollar in July 1906. A daughter, Elizabeth Ellen, born May 8, 1907, did not survive her birth. Ella died two weeks later. [6] All are buried in Santa Rosa, California, in the Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery. Shull married Mary Julia Nicholl on August 26, 1909. [7] He and his second wife had six children (John Shull, Georgia Shull Vandersloot, Frederick Shull, David Shull, Barbara Shull Miller, and Harrison Shull.)


Shull died in Princeton on September 28, 1954. His cremains were buried in Santa Rosa, California where his first wife was buried. His second wife's remains were also buried there twelve years later. [8] [9]

The standard author abbreviation Shull is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name. [10]

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  1. "SHULL, George Harrison". The International Who's Who in the World. 1912. p. 953.
  2. Nelson, Richard R. (April 1959). "The Economics of Invention: A Survey of Literature". The Journal of Business. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 32 (2): 101–127. doi:10.1086/294247.
  3. "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  4. McClure, Donald; Kasha, Michael. Harrison Shull. Biographical Memoirs. vol. 87. National Academy of Sciences Press. pp. 332–398.
  5. Dreyer, Peter (1985). A Gardner Touched with Genius, The Life of Luther Burbank. University of California Press. pp. 143–197.
  6. Dreyer, Peter (1985). A Gardner Touched with Genius, The Life of Luther Burbank. University of California Press. p. 143.
  7. Dreyer, Peter (1985). A Gardner Touched with Genius, The Life of Luther Burbank. University of California Press. p. 179.
  8. Dreyer, Peter (1985). A Gardner Touched with Genius, The Life of Luther Burbank. University of California Press. p. 197.
  9. Santa Rosa Memorial Park map Lot #52
  10. IPNI.  Shull.

A reference to George H. Shull's discovery of the process of heterosis is in the movie "High Time" starring Bing Crosby about a wealthy man going back to college to get his bachelor's degree. When quizzing with a younger fraternity brother, Crosby's character asks "Who discovered the process of heterosis?" to which the young student answers "George W. (pause), NO, George H. Shull"