Koller | Pio C | 1904-1979 | Hungarian geneticist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Pius Charles Koller, who was one of the founders of cytogentics, was born in Budapest where he first studied at the university for the priesthood and took his doctoral degree in science in 1926. He then went to Cambridge to work with Professor Reginald Crundall Punnett 1875-1967 at the Institute of Genetics. There he met the American geneticist, Landsfield and collaborated with him on studies of Drosophila. At Cambridge he researched the chemistry of genetics with Professor Szent-Gy├Ârgy (1893-1986), and later he also worked with Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975).

He first came to Edinburgh in 1929 when Professor Francis Crew (1886-1973), Buchanan Professor of Animal Genetics invited Professor Landsfield to Edinburgh, and he brought Pio Koller with him. At the invitation of Crew, and with an extension of his Hungarian study grant Koller, who had been taught the technique of genetical study on Drosophila by Landsfield, was able to remain at the Institute of Animal Breeding at Edinburgh for a few months. Koller obtained his Ph.D at Cambridge before returning to genetical work in Hungary. He came back to Edinburgh in 1932 by which time he had learnt from Cyril Dean Darlington (1903-1981), who was working on chromosomes at the John Innes Institute, the cytological technique - the beginnings of the new field of cytogenetics. Koller pursued the interpretation of the relationship between the behaviour of the chromosome and the behaviour of the genetic material in rats, mice and duck hybrids. His work focused on the little studied field of the crossing of parental chromosomes to offspring, on how variation results from chromosome behaviour, and the transferral of genes from the y to the x chromosomes thus separating the sex-linked genes. This work took him into animal breeding and the physiology of poultry and other birds. It was an exciting period in the development of genetics at the Institute and Pio later described Edinburgh as the centre for genetics in UK and Europe at this time.

During World War II Koller was unable to remain in Hungary and he along with other young scientists who were refugees of the European totalitarian regimes were encouraged by Crew to come to Edinburgh. In addition to obtaining research grants for them that enabled their pioneering work to continue, Crew also purchased a hostel in Newington for them all to live in. Koller remained in Edinburgh throughout the war except for one year in 1936 when he was a Rockefeller Fellow, but he returned from California early to assist Crew with the international Genetics Congress of 1939. In 1944 Koller moved to London as Research Cytologist at the Royal Cancer Hospital, and from 1946 he was at the Chester Beatty Research Institute in London. He had come to cancer work from the experiments that he, Charlotte Auerbach (1899-1994), Muller and others had carried out in Edinburgh. As part of the war effort they were charged with discovering the effects of mustard gas attacks and Koller noticed that the pathological effect of the gas was, as in radiation sickness, on the cell's nucleus. He hoped that mustard gas might be used to treat cancer cells in the same way that radiation did. This work and the studies he carried out on radiation induced sterility and the inheritance of damaged genetic material by the offspring of people contaminated by radiation were his most important achievements. Koller was Professor of Cytogenetics at the Institute of Cancer Research after he left Edinburgh in 1944 until his retirement in 1969.


In addition to those colleagues mentioned above, Pio Koller also collaborated with J.N. Pickard (1928) on rabbits, with Miller on sheep, with Bertold Wiesner on pregnancy testing, with Guido Pontecorvo and with Alan Greenwood who succeeded Francis Crew as Director of the Institute of Animal Breeding at the University of Edinburgh. Koller also worked with Holding in London, and number of younger geneticists in Stockholm, including Thelma Townsen and William Briden.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications: Koller published numerous research papers in the Journal of Genetics and the British Journal of Cancer.

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1933: Awarded D.Sc, University of Edinburgh

1936-1937: Appointed Rockefeller Fellow, Pasadena, California

1970: Visiting Professor, Harvard Medical School


List of sources for the biographical information:

University of Edinburgh Journal, 'Obituary', vol. 29, ( Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, 1980)

Who's Who 1978, ( Great Britain, A and C Black Ltd, 1978)