A Blog Around The Clock

Victor Bruce, a lecturer emeritus in biology at Princeton who conducted advanced studies for more than 25 years on the built-in cycles governing natural rhythms like the sleep-wake cycle, has died. He was 88.

Bruce, who despite a background in engineering became drawn to biological studies, died Friday, May 29, at his home in Princeton after a short struggle with cancer.

“He was an A-1 scientist who did some really neat work,” said John Bonner, Princeton’s George M. Moffett Professor Emeritus of Biology. “He was a wonderful colleague.”

Bruce joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 1956, drawn by the work of Colin Pittendrigh, a noted professor in the department. It was in Pittendrigh’s lab that Bruce began his studies into the circadian rhythms of the one-celled Chlamydomonas, a form of green algae that ultimately became a model organism for scientists.

Plants and animals, Bruce knew, have built-in biological clocks that allow them to flower, sleep or wake at the right time. Without signals from the environment, the clocks keep to 24-hour rotations. Bruce wanted to know what controlled these cycles. In close studies of the algae, he found that some strains varied slightly in the length of their phases. As a result, he conducted some breeding experiments that led to his proving that the periods must be subject to genetic control.

“Victor was really the first person to show that there was a genetic basis to circadian rhythms,” Bonner said. Circadian rhythms and the genetics of that phenomenon are now a burgeoning area of science. Bruce retired from Princeton in 1982….

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