January 25, 1900 (a Thursday)

Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky

On this date, the noted geneticist Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky was born in Ukraine (then part of Imperial Russia). He emigrated to the United States in 1927. Dobzhansky was a central figure in the field of evolutionary biology for his work in shaping the unifying modern evolutionary synthesis. The key revelation was that mutation, by creating genetic diversity, supplied the raw material for natural selection to act on. Instead of mutation and natural selection being competing explanations for evolution, they were joined in this new synthesis.

In particular, Dobzhansky provided laboratory evidence for natural selection and variation where previously there had been only field observation. His work with Drosophila, or fruit flies, provided new evidence that supported Darwin’s theory that natural selection, acting on genetic variation in populations, is a driving force in evolution.

Dobzhansky is remembered today not only for his strictly scientific achievements, but also for his deep concern about the possible misunderstanding and misuse by society of the concepts of genetic variation. He is perhaps best remembered for the following statement:

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

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