January 24, 2003

Pioneering genetic researcher Gisela Mosig dies

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Gisela Mosig, 72, a pioneering genetic researcher and distinguished faculty member at Vanderbilt University, died Jan. 12 at Alive Hospice. She had been undergoing cancer treatment for two years.

Dr. Mosig, a researcher and teacher at Vanderbilt for the past 38 years, was a central figure in understanding the role that DNA recombination plays in the replication of DNA and in the evolution of genomes. She had more than 100 publications in scientific journals.

One of the few women scientists of her era in molecular biology, she blazed the trail for others who followed. Dr. Mosig was a professor in Vanderbilt’s Department of Molecular Biology, which recently became the Biological Sciences Department. She was named professor emerita in May 2002.

Born in the Saxony region of Germany, Dr. Mosig’s home fell under East German rule after World War II. In 1948, when she was just 18, she managed to cross by bicycle into West Germany, carrying only the possessions that would fit on her bike.

In West Germany, she did her undergraduate work at the University of Bonn and her graduate work, studying plant genetics, at the University of Cologne, where she was awarded her doctorate in 1959.

At Cologne, Dr. Mosig met Gus Doermann, a distinguished Vanderbilt biologist. He inspired her to study the genetics of a virus, bacteriophage T4, and recruited her to take a postdoctoral fellowship working in his lab at Vanderbilt. Studies with bacteriophage T4 led various labs to make some of the groundbreaking discoveries in understanding how genes function.

From 1962 to 1965, Dr. Mosig was a research associate at the Carnegie Institution Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., where she worked with Nobel laureate Alfred Hershey. With Hershey’s approval and support, she challenged lab dogma about the way the T4 virus’s DNA recombined.

This zest for re-examining and challenging scientific dogma continued when Dr. Mosig became an independent scientist and faculty member at Vanderbilt in 1965.

Dr. Mosig was elected a fellow of the American Society of Microbiology in 1994. At Vanderbilt, she was honored for both her research and her teaching, winning the Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research in 1995 and the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award in 1989.

Dr. Mosig is survived by a large family in Germany: three brothers and four sisters, 16 nieces and nephews and 22 grandnieces and grandnephews.