Theodosius Dobzhansky

From Academic Kids

Theodosius Grigorevich Dobzhansky (Russian — Феодосий Григорьевич Добржанский; sometimes anglicized to Theodore Dobzhansky; January 25, 1900 - December 18, 1975) was a noted geneticist and evolutionary biologist. Dobzhansky was born in Ukraine (then part of Imperial Russia), emigrated to the United States in 1927.



Early life

Dobzhansky was born in Nemirov, Ukraine then part of Imperial Russia. An only child, his father Grigory Dobrzhansky was a mathematics teacher, and his mother was Sophia Voinarsky. In 1910 the family moved to Kiev. At high school, Dobzhansky collected butterflies and decided to become a biologist. In 1915 he met Victor Luchnik who convinced him to specialise on beetles instead. Dobzhansky attended the University of Kiev between 1917 and 1921, where he then taught until 1924. He then moved to Leningrad (St. Petersburg) to study under Yuri Filipchenko, where a Drosophila melanogaster lab had been established.

On August 8, 1924, Dobzhansky married geneticist Natalia "Natasha" Sivertzev who was working with I.I. Schmalhausen in Kiev. The Dobzhanskys had one daughter, Sophie, who later married the American anthropologist Michael D. Coe.

This period was one of great social upheaval in Russia with the First World War followed by the Russian revolutions of 1917 and the Russian Civil War that established the Soviet Union, and mass starvation.


Dobzhansky emigrated to the United States in 1927 on a scholarship from International Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation arriving in New York on December 27. He worked with Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University. Morgan was the pioneer of the use of fruit flies in genetics experiments. He followed Morgan to the California Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1940. In 1937 he published one of the major works of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the synthesis of evolutionary biology with genetics, entitled Genetics and the Origin of Species, which amongst other things defined evolution as "a change in the frequency of an allele within a gene pool".

Dobzhansky returned to Columbia University from 1940 to 1962. He then moved to the Rockefeller Institute (shortly to become Rockefeller University) until his retirement in 1971.

Final illness and the Light of Evolution

On June 1, 1968 it was discovered that Dobzhansky was suffering from lymphatic leukemia, a mild form of leukemia, and given a few months to a few years to live. Natasha died of coronary thrombosis on February 22, 1969. In 1971 retired but continued working as an emertisu professor, moving to the University of California, Davis where his student Francisco Jose Ayala was made assistant professor.

Meanwhile, he continued working and published a famous anti-creationist essay Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. His leukemia turned bad in the summer of 1975, on November 11 he made a trip to San Jacinto, California where he died of heart failure on December 18.



  • Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937, third edition 1951)
  • The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (1954).
  • Mankind Evolving: The Evolution of the Human Species (1962)
  • The Biology of Ultimate Concern (1967)
  • Genetics of the Evolution Process (1970)
  • Genetic Diversity and Human Equality (1973).

External links

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