August 21, 2014

John P. Trinkaus

In Memoriam: World Renowned Developmental Biologist at Yale, John P. Trinkaus

Trinkaus New Haven, Conn. — John P. Trinkaus, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, died on February 8 at age 84.

Author of the classic book “Cells into Organs: The Forces that Shape the Embryo,” Trinkaus has been described by the National Cancer Institute as the world’s leading expert on in vivo cell movements. Trinkaus provided readers with critical analyses of cell motility and the ability of cancerous and normal cells to invade other tissue. It was the only book in the field at that time that focused on the migration of tissues and cells and studied how they formed complex organs during development.

Trinkaus spent many years performing his research at Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts and the Station Marine, Roscoff, Brittany, France with many of his collaborators, postdoctoral fellows and students. Using sea urchin and fish eggs, he used time-lapse videography to capture the movements of individual cells on the surface and in the interior of the egg. Trinkaus investigated the mechanisms and external factors responsible for the migration of embryonic cells, from the sites of their origin to their ultimate destinations in the developing organism. His autobiography, “The Embryologist,” which will soon be released, describes many of these scientific exploits.

[Trinkaus was a student in the 1939 MBL Embryology course and subsequently served as a course assistant and later faculty member and lecturer in that course. He became a summer investigator and a member of the MBL Corporation in 1948.]

In 1987, Trinkaus was among the first group of American scientists to receive a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health. This grant allowed him to continue his research after his retirement from Yale.

Trinkaus received his bachelor’s degree with honors and high distinction in biology from Wesleyan University, his master’s from Columbia University and his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1948. He joined the Yale faculty that year and spent his entire academic career in the department of zoology and in its successor, the department of biology. Trinkaus was also director of Graduate Studies in the department of biology and served as Master of Branford College from 1966 to 1973. During his tenure at Yale, he was recognized as a superior teacher, and his courses were always among the most popular in his department. He attracted many outstanding graduate students to his laboratory and these students now hold appointments at leading universities.

Trinkaus was chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Cell Contact and Movement in 1979, summer investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole for many years and a member of the space biology advisory panel of NASA from 1976 to 1979. Trinkaus also wrote “On the Mechanism of Metazoan Cell Movements” in 1976, and authored many professional journal articles.

A John Simon Guggenheim fellow at the College de France, Paris, from 1959 to 1960, Trinkaus was also a member of the American Society of Zoologists, the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society for Developmental Biology and the International Institute of Embryology.

Trinkaus is survived by his wife of forty years, Madeleine Bazin Trinkaus, Guilford, CT; his children, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Stow, MA; Tanya Trinkaus Glass, North Kingstown, RI; and Erik Trinkaus, Ladue, MO. He also leaves five grandchildren: Jennifer and Christopher Trinkaus-Randall, Trina Nix, Alex Shore and Sasha Trinkaus; and one great-grandson, Connor Nix.

Gifts in memory of Trinkaus can be made to the J. P. Trinkaus Fund, c/o Wendy Faxon, at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA 02453.

Reprinted with permission from Yale University Office of Public Affairs, opa@yale.edu