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J. B. S. Haldane
Haldane in 1914
Born (1892 -11-05)5 November 1892
Oxford, England
Died 1 December 1964 (1964 -12-01) (aged 72)
Bhubaneswar, India
Residence
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • India
Citizenship
  • British (until 1961)
  • Indian
Fields
Institutions
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Academic advisors Frederick Gowland Hopkins
Doctoral students
Known for
Notable awards

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane 5 November 1892 - 1 December 1964) was a British, later Indian, scientist known for his work in the study of physiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and in mathematics, where he made innovative contributions to the fields of statistics and biostatistics. He was the son of the equally famous John Scott Haldane and was a professed socialist, Marxist, atheist, and humanist whose political dissent led him to leave England in 1956 and live in India, becoming a naturalised Indian citizen in 1961.

His first paper in 1915 demonstrated genetic linkage in mammals while subsequent works helped to create population genetics, thus establishing a unification of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution by natural selection whilst laying the groundwork for modern evolutionary synthesis.

His article on abiogenesis in 1929 introduced the "primordial soup theory", and it became the foundation to build physical models for the chemical origin of life. Haldane established human gene maps for haemophilia and colour blindness on the X chromosome, and codified Haldane's rule on sterility.

He correctly proposed that sickle-cell disease confers some immunity to malaria. He was the first to suggest the central idea of in vitro fertilisation, as well as concepts such as: the hydrogen economy, cis and trans-acting regulation, coupling reaction, molecular repulsion, the darwin (as a unit of evolution) and organismal cloning.

Career

His education was interrupted by the First World War during which he fought in the British Army, being commissioned a temporary second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) on 15 August 1914. He was promoted to temporary lieutenant on 18 February 1915 and to temporary captain on 18 October. He served in France and Iraq, where he was wounded. He relinquished his commission on 1 April 1920, retaining his rank of captain. For his ferocity and aggressiveness in battles, his commander called him the "bravest and dirtiest officer in my Army."

Between 1919 and 1922 he was a Fellow of New College, Oxford University, then moved to Cambridge University, where he accepted a Readership in Biochemistry at Trinity College and taught there until 1932. During his nine years at Cambridge, Haldane worked on enzymes and genetics, particularly the mathematical side of genetics. Haldane wrote many popular essays on science that were eventually collected and published in 1927 in a volume entitled Possible Worlds.

He then accepted a position as Professor of Genetics and moved to University College London where he spent most of his academic career. Four years later he became the first Weldon Professor of Biometry at University College London.

Haldane's move to India, initially to the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) was influenced by a number of factors. His interest in India was also because of his interest in biological research, belief that the warm climate would do him good and that India offered him freedom and shared socialist dreams. At the ISI, he headed the biometry unit and spent time researching a range of topics and guiding other researchers around him.

Death

Shortly before his death from cancer, Haldane wrote a comic poem while in the hospital, mocking his own incurable disease. It was read by his friends, who appreciated the consistent irreverence with which Haldane had lived his life. The poem first appeared in print in 21 February 1964 issue of the New Statesman

He willed his body for medical studies, as he wanted to remain useful even in death. Arthur C. Clarke credited him as "perhaps the most brilliant science populariser of his generation". Nobel laureate Peter Medawar called Haldane "the cleverest man I ever knew".

Awards and honours

Haldane was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1932. The French Government conferred him its National Order of the Legion of Honour in 1937. In 1952, he received the Darwin Medal from the Royal Society. In 1956, he was awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. He received the Feltrinelli Prize from Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in 1961. He also received an Honorary Doctorate of Science, an Honorary Fellowship at New College, and the Kimber Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Linnean Society of London's prestigious Darwin–Wallace Medal in 1958.

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