Theodosius Dobzhansky

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Theodosius Dobzhansky ( Russian Феодосий Григорьевич Добржанский / Feodosy Grigorjewitsch Dobrschanski * 24. January 1900 in Nemirov ; † 18th December 1975 in San Jacinto ) was a Russian-American geneticist , zoologist and evolutionary biologist , who along with Ernst Mayr as one of the leading proponent of the synthetic theory of evolution applies, which united genetics ( Mendelian rules ) with the theory of evolution .

Dobzhansky made decisive contributions to the understanding of biological evolution and the origin of species . He was not only a great evolution theorist, but also an important experimenter. He became known through his genetic research on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster .


Dobzhansky was born in Nemirow, in what was then the Russian Empire, now Ukraine , as the son of a mathematics teacher. From an early age he became interested in insects and collected moths and butterflies. When he was 12 he knew he wanted to be a biologist. He attended the University of Kiev from 1917 to 1921. Here he dealt with the anatomy and systematics of ladybirds. In 1924 he shifted his work focus to fruit flies ( Drosophila melanogaster ). In 1924 he married the evolutionary biologist Natalia (Natascha) Siwerzew. In 1927 he accepted a position at the Leningrad University .

Dobzhansky emigrated with his wife to the USA in 1927 , where he worked in Thomas Hunt Morgan's "fly room" at Columbia University in New York . They sought to localize genes on chromosomes by studying the frequency of inherited traits. Dobzhansky irradiated fruit flies with X-rays and studied the increased chromosomal aberration using marker genes . Years of experience in dissecting beetles enabled him to demonstrate the linear arrangement of genes in chromosomes under the microscope. From Columbia University he followed Thomas Hunt Morgan to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena , California , where he taught from 1930 to 1940. Here he worked on translocations (shifting a part of a chromosome within the same chromosome) and on the expression of the male or female gender. In 1936 he became a professor of zoology. Dobzhansky became a US citizen in 1937.

In 1937 he published his influential work Genetics and the Origin of Species , thus providing one of the cornerstones of the synthetic theory of evolution . It included the latest in theoretical and practical population genetics along with the 'neo-Darwinian' findings of Ronald Fisher , Sewall Wright , and John Burdon Sanderson Haldane . There was a systematic overview of variation, selection and isolation mechanisms in natural populations. In 1937, Dobzhansky defined evolution as a “change in allele frequencies in a gene pool ”. Together with Sewall Wright, he was able to show how evolution creates a stable equilibrium in populations. Together with Ernst Walter Mayr , he demonstrated that evolution is both spatial and temporal transformation, and that the emergence of organic diversity is therefore just as much a matter of evolutionary biology as the adaptive changes within a lineage. His essay On species and races of living and fossil man , published in 1944 , in which he argued that there was only one single, varied species of hominini at any one time , led in 1950 to the fact that u. a. numerous previously differently named fossils were brought together in the species Homo erectus .

From 1940 to 1962 he was a professor at Columbia University in New York. Here he became a close friend of the geneticist LC Dunn, with whom he published some books. There was also a close working relationship with George Gaylord Simpson and Ernst W. Mayr. In 1941 Dobzhansky was President of the Genetics Society of America . In the same year he received the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences . In 1942 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society , 1943 to the National Academy of Sciences, and 1953 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . Never satisfied with pure laboratory work, Dobzhansky traveled extensively during his 22 years at Columbia University. He looked for flies in Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Australia, New Guinea, Egypt, India, Indonesia and the western parts of the USA. In 1962 he published Mankind Evolving , in which he expanded the synthesis of genetics and evolution with anthropology and sociology. In 1959 he received the Darwin badge . In 1960 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina .

In 1962 he took a position at the Rockefeller Institute (later Rockefeller University), which he held until his retirement in 1971. In 1971 he became an associate professor of genetics at the University of California at Davis .

Dobzhansky, a practicing Orthodox Christian, criticized the creationists for their rejection of the theory of evolution ; he criticized Pope Paul VI. for its anti-evolutionary attitude. The much-quoted headline from his article in "The American Biology Teacher" from 1973 reads: "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (German: "nothing in biology makes sense except when viewed in the light of evolution"). In it he speaks out against playing off the belief in creation and the theory of evolution against each other: “It is wrong to regard creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or nature's way of creation. The creation is not an event that happened 4004 BC; it is a process that began 10 billion years ago and is still on its way. ”Dobzhansky also commented on philosophical issues ( Alfred North Whitehead ) and the social impact of his work. Dobzhansky was a supporter of the critical rationalism of Karl R. Popper .

His anti-racist position

In the 1960s, Dobzhansky abandoned the breed as an anthropological category. Whenever this category has been used in history, it has been horribly abused:

“Each person has a genotype and life story that is different from any other being, be it a member of the family, clan, race or humanity. Beyond the universal rights of all human beings (which can be a typological ascription!), A person should evaluate on the basis of their own merits. "

- On Types, Genotypes, and the Genetic Diversity in Populations . See references below. Quoted from the translation by Sander L. Gilman (2005) in: The Jewish nose: Are Jews white? Or the history of nasal surgery In: Maureen Maisha Eggers, Grada Kilomba, Peggy Piesche, Susan Arndt (ed.) (2005): Myths, masks and subjects. )

See also: Timeline of evolution research

Fonts (selection)

  • Heredity, Race and Society (1946)
  • Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937, third edition 1951)
  • The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (1954)
  • Evolution, Genetics, and Man (1955)
  • Radiation, Genes, and Man (1959)
  • Mankind Evolving: The Evolution of the Human Species (1962)
  • Heredity and the nature of man (1964); German: inheritance and image of man (1966)
  • The Biology of Ultimate Concern (1967)
  • Heredity, Race and Society (1968)
  • Genetics of the Evolutionary Process (1970)
  • Genetic Diversity and Human Equality (1973)


  • On Types, Genotypes, and the Genetic Diversity in Populations. In: JN Spuhler (Ed.): Genetic Diversity and Human Behavior . Chicago: Aldine, (1967)


"Nothing in Biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution."

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Theodosius Dobzhansky: On species and races of living and fossil man. In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 2, No. 3, 1944, pp. 251-265, doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.1330020303
  2. ^ Member History: Theodosius Dobzhansky. American Philosophical Society, accessed July 18, 2018 .
  3. ^ Members of the American Academy. Listed by election year, 1950-1999 ( [1] ). Retrieved September 23, 2015
  4. ^ Member entry of Theodosius Dobzhansky at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on October 22, 2015.
  5. M. Blume Zeit, Evolution und Glaube, 2013, p. 11, see:
  6. ^ Theodosius Dobzhansky: Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. In: The American Biology Teacher. Volume 35, No. 3, 1973, pp. 125–129, full text (PDF)