Her parents John and Margarethe Esau were Mennonites, a religious minority from Germany who had sought refuge and land in imperial Russia in the 18th century. Empress Catherine II the Great granted the Mennonites tracts of land on which they could farm and flourish. As religious pacifists, they declined en masse to participate in wars, and the Russian empress took these convictions into account when she granted the group an exemption from military service for a full century. The Mennonites prospered in their agricultural colonies, maintaining a separate cultural, religious and linguistic identity, which by the late 19th century began to expose them collectively to Russian and Ukrainian accusations that they constituted alien islands of arrogant and inassimilable Germans in a Slavic sea. As one of the very few Mennonites who had attended Russian schools, he spoke perfect Russian and Ukrainian, had earned a degree as a mechanical engineer in Riga, and by the time Katherine was born in as his last child son Nicolai and daughter Marie had died in infancy, and Paul, born in , survived the Esau family had become prosperous.
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By Debra Cleveland October When botanist Katherine Esau died June 4, at age 99, Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, remembered that she "absolutely dominated the field of plant anatomy and morphology for several decades. She set the stage for all kinds of modern advances in plant physiology and molecular biology. Esau in cultivating sugarbeets for the hybridization program she developed at Spreckels Sugar Company.
After successfully producing a curly top-resistant sugarbeet, Esau left Spreckels in for graduate studies at UC Davis, where she became a plant anatomist. Katherine Esau was born in the Ukraine in So it was from Germany that Esau emigrated to the United States. In , Esau, who had studied agriculture in Russia and Germany, accepted a position working for the Spreckels Sugar Co.
She was to develop a sugarbeet resistant to curly top-an economically ruinous viral disease spread by an insect called a leaf hopper.
No one else at Spreckels was working on the project and Esau instituted a successful hybridization program. When W. He responded by offering her a graduate assistantship.
Esau hoped to continue her research on developing the curly top-resistant sugarbeet at UC Davis, but after her initial year of graduate studies, she arrived at an impasse. Other UC Davis researchers had sugar beet fields they did not want infected with the curly top virus, which meant Esau could not release virus-laden leafhoppers in the open. Undaunted, she decided to focus her research on the effect of the curly top virus on sugarbeets, a decision that changed her field to pathological plant anatomy and led to the lifelong career Peter Raven praised so highly.
One of her early publications as a faculty member reported her discovery that the curly top virus spreads through a plant via the food-conducting or phloem tissue. Six years later, Esau presented a review of the work she had done during her first 15 years at UC Davis when she was selected to give the Faculty Research Lecture, the highest honor the campus bestows for research.
In the late s, in a house that still stands at First Street, Esau began to write a manuscript that became the page, classic textbook Plant Anatomy. The book Plant Anatomy brought to life what previously had seemed to me to be a rather dull subject. I was not the only one so affected. Plant Anatomy had an enormous impact worldwide, literally bringing about a revivification of the discipline. They hooked me on plant anatomy. However, he still uses photomicrographs prepared by Esau.
A shorter textbook by Esau, The Anatomy of Seed Plants, was published in and Professor Bill Lucas, also a plant biologist, still refers his students to it. During most of her tenure at UC Davis, Esau was housed in a building with no air conditioning that was supposed to have been used as a garage.
She was still working in that building when in she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the sixth woman to receive that honor. I have no idea what impressed them about me.
In , she received a grant from the National Science Foundation for an electron microscope solely for her use. Yet she was as unimpressed by technological innovation as she was by the honors accorded her. I take my matters step-by-step as they go. But this dignified aura belied a sense of humor manifested in a lecture titled "The Saga of Vladimir-the-Virus and the Sad Fate of Norman-the-Nucleus" in which Esau personified the cellular components involved in viral infection.
Many of her lectures began with "Once upon a time She was 84 years old.
Esau's Career as a Plant Anatomist
The city was named after Catherine the Great as was Katherine Esau. It is located on the Dnepr River and its name was changed to Dnepropetrovsk after the Russian Revolution. Esau came from a German Mennonite family that emigrated to Russia and settled in the steppes of the Ukraine in Katherine had one brother, Paul. As her ancestors did before her, Katherine and her brother attended Russian schools and spoke Russian and German.