Francis Galton was a 19th century English scientist with a keen interest in heredity and evolution, just like his much-admired cousin, Charles Darwin. Galton is remembered for his brilliantly inventive mind, coming up with innovations such as forensic fingerprinting, weather maps and even the Gumption Reviver—a portable dripping tap designed to sit over a student’s head in lectures and keep him awake.
Galton also founded the field of biometrics, gathering detailed data about individuals in order to understand more about populations, laying the groundwork for the development of statistical genetics. It was this obsession with measurement that led Galton to the infamous idea for which he’s best known and the word that he coined to describe it: eugenics.
On this episode of Genetics Unzipped, geneticist Kat Arney explores how Galton’s ideas led directly to some of the worst atrocities carried out in the name of racial purity, including the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and forced sterilizations in India and elsewhere. More than a century after Galton’s death, Arney examines how institutions that bear his name might come to terms with his dark legacy and the worrying return of his ideas in modern racist pseudoscience.
Arney also looks at the evolution of sex—from the 500 sexes of slime molds to genetically modified fruit flies that are drawn to the red light district. Plus, could a new CRISPR-based tool known as a gene drive lead to the complete eradication of mosquitoes?
Genetics Unzipped is presented by award-winning science communicator and biologist Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media for the UK Genetics Society. Follow Kat on Twitter @Kat_Arney and Genetics Unzipped @geneticsunzip