Evolutionary genetics found roots in early 20th century fruit flies

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Genetics is a science almost without a history. There was Gregor Mendel, of course, but his work was ignored for decades. Nowadays, of course, its advances are hailed in daily press releases. Modern biology will cure cancer, fix damaged DNA and uncover hidden talents, if not today then tomorrow (or perhaps in a few decades). The double helix has become the icon of the 21st century.

My own link with its roots was with the Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, born in 1900. He spent his early career looking for useful genes in the semi-wild horses of Central Asia, interspersed with studies of local ladybirds and butterflies. In 1927 he left for the USA and, for the rest of his life, worked on fruit flies across the Americas. On the way he founded the modern science of evolutionary genetics.

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In modern context he resembles Vladimir Nabokov’s character Pnin, hero of the eponymous novel, which features a Russian émigré and his series of tragi-comic rows with colleagues and officials that ends up with his exile from New York and a forced move to the far west. Just that happened to Dobzhansky, and he too broke several close friendships after blows to his scientific amour-propre.


Read full, original post: The day I went on a field trip with Theodosius Dobzhansky

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