Dobzhansky was born in the Ukraine (then part of Imperial Russia) and emigrated to the United States in 1927. He was a central figure in the field of evolutionary biology for his work on the fruit-fly Drosophila. He did research on these flies in California, mostly on populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura.
Ukraine and Russia
At school Dobzhansky collected butterflies and beetles, and studied biology at Kiev University. After graduation he moved to St Petersburg (then called Leningrad), and studied under Yuri Filipchenko, who had a Drosophila lab. Dobzhansky collected Coccinellidae (ladybird beetles) in the wild, and explored their genetics.
Dobzhansky emigrated to the United States in 1927. He worked with Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University, who had pioneered the use of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in genetics experiments. He followed Morgan to the California Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1940. Dobzhansky took fruit fly research out of the laboratory and into the field. He discovered that regional varieties of flies were more similar to each other genetically than to flies from other regions.
In 1937 Dobzhansky published one of the major works of the modern evolutionary synthesis, entitled Genetics and the Origin of Species. He defined evolution as "a change in the allele frequency within a gene pool". It is through changes in the proportion of alleles in a population that evolution takes place. Also in 1937, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. During this time he had a falling out with one of his Drosophila collaborators, Alfred Sturtevant, based perhaps on professional competition.
Dobzhansky returned to Columbia University from 1940 to 1962. He was one of the signatories of the 1950 UNESCO statement The Race Question. He then moved to the Rockefeller University) until his retirement in 1971.
Other key publications
- Genetics of the evolutionary process. Columbia University Press, New York 1970.
- Dobzhansky's Genetics of Natural Populations I-XLIII. R.C. Lewontin, J.A. Moore, W.B. Provine & B. Wallace, eds. Columbia University Press, New York 1981. (reprints the 43 papers in this series, all but two of which were authored or co-authored by Dobzhansky)
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