Thomas Hunt Morgan spent the summers of 1888 and 1889 at the US Fish Commission in Woods Hole, studying ascidians. In 1890, he moved to the MBL and studied the burrowing invertebrate Balanoglossus and a parade of other marine organisms.

Morgan at bench
morgan house
Late 1910s

He then spent almost every summer at the MBL with his family. The Morgan home became a place for students and senior researchers to gather informally to discuss techniques, choice of organisms, and ideas.

Morgan asked how organisms develop and was fascinated by the abilities of planarians, hydra, and other organisms to regenerate after they were injured. In his experiments, he chopped individuals into bits and watched them rebuild the missing parts.

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This led him to ask whether the existing cells each undergo changes to take on different roles, or whether they stay the same while new cells replace the missing parts.

morgan with daughters
Morgan and his daughters c. 1918

By 1901, his mastery of marine organism research and microscopy led to dozens of articles and a major book on Regeneration.

regeneration HoverTouch to magnify
MBL Rare Books Collection

Eventually, Morgan’s work on Drosophila fruit flies won him a Nobel Prize and helped to establish the field of genetics.

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Morgan's Nobel Prize Medal (left) and Diploma (right) from 1933
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Nonetheless, Morgan stated his favorite research was studying reproduction and development in the sea squirt Ciona.

1. Still Image: "Portrait of Thomas Hunt Morgan at microscope", 5/15/2012,

2. Still Image: "Backyard of Thomas Hunt Morgan's home in Woods Hole Backyard of Thomas Hunt Morgan's home in Woods Hole", 5/15/2012,

3. Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Hydra viridissima2.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed October 11, 2021).

4. Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Planaria torva.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed October 11, 2021).

5. Still Image: "Thomas Hunt Morgan with daughters", 5/15/2012,

6. Morgan, Thomas Hunt. Regeneration. London: The Macmillan Company, 1901.

7. Photograph of Nobel Medal courtesy of Matthew Person.

8. Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Ciona robusta .jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed October 11, 2021).