Theodosius Dobzhansky


Theodosius Dobzhansky

Widely regarded as the founder of evolutionary genetics, Theodosius Dobzhansky was an eminent Ukrainian-American geneticist and evolutionist. He played a vital role in the development of evolutionary theory and genetics.

Early Life and Education:

Born in Nemirov, Russian Empire in 1900, Theodosius Dobzhansky was the son of a high school mathematics teacher. He belonged to a family of Russian Orthodox priests. During his childhood, Dobzhansky had developed a passion of collecting insects, and was an ardent fan of outdoor activities. In his high-school days, he decided to become a biologist. After graduating in biology from the University of Kiev in 1921, Dobzhansky accepted a position at the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev on the faculty of agriculture.

Contributions and Achievements:

During his stay as a professor and researcher, Theodosius Dobzhansky started devoting his efforts to the emerging field of genetics. He studied many newer areas of genetics, starting extensive research on the fruit-fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Many contemporary geneticists followed his work, such as Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko, who was Dobzhansky’s fellow professor at Leningrad University until 1927. He also later analyzed the genetics of horses and cattle.

Dobzhansky followed zoologist Thomas Hunt Morgan to the California Institute of Technology in 1928, working as assistant professor in genetics. A few years later, in 1933, he made an important breakthrough when Dobzhansky changed his model organism to Drosophila pseudoobscura. The results corroborated his worked “Genetics and the Origin of Species”. Published in 1937, it turned out to be the most important book on evolutionary biology of the 20th century. A combination of Darwinian selection and modern genetics, it became a catalyst for future researches in evolution.

Dobzhansky joined the Columbia University in 1940, making an energetic group of genetics researchers around him. He moved to Rockefeller University in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 1970. Dobzhansky revolutionized the application of genetics and evolution to the understanding of human beings. He also wrote about anthropological and philosophical themes, for instance his influential 1962 work, “Mankind Evolving”, that changed the face of modern genetics and evolutionary theory.

Later Life and Death:

Theodosius Dobzhansky retired from Rockefeller University in 1970, and announced to join the University of California at Davis as a supervisor. He died five years later, in 1975, following a long battle with leukemia. He was 75 years old.