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Sargant, Ethel

elected cambridge botany research

(1863–1918) British botanist who suggested a new interpretation of the relationship between mono- and dicotyledons.

Ethel Sargant studied natural science at Girton College, Cambridge (1881–5), and spent a year at the Jodrell laboratory at Kew Gardens training in research methods; in 1897 she visited several laboratories in Europe. For many years she cared for her elderly mother and an invalid sister, and worked first from a laboratory built in the grounds of her mother’s house and later from her own home in Cambridge. She acted as research adviser to the Cambridge students of botany.

She worked in the cytology and the anatomical morphology of plants, and her earliest work concerned the presence of centrosomes in higher plants. She moved to a general study of oogenesis and spermatogenesis in Lilium martagon . Her work demonstrating the existence of the synaptic phase in living cells was published in the Annals of Botany in 1896 and 1897.

Sargant’s study of monocotyledonous seedlings resulted in her suggestion that both mono- and dicotyledons evolved from a common ancestral stock and that the single seed-leaf in the monocotyledon was homologous to the pair in the dicotyledon. These findings were discussed in A Theory of the Origin of Monocotyledons Founded on the Structure of Their Seedlings , The Evolution of Monocotyledons and The Reconstruction of a Race of Primitive Angiosperms , published between 1903 and 1908.

She was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1904, and was the first woman to serve on its council. At the 1913 Birmingham meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science she was elected president of the botanical section, becoming the first woman to preside over a section. She was elected to an honorary fellowship of Girton College in 1913.

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