Theodosius Dobzhansky

Theodosius Dobzhansky
Theodosius Dobzhansky
Outdoor photograph of an older man with thinning white hair, dressed in a suit.
Theodosius Dobzhansky, ca.1966
Born Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky
January 24, 1900(1900-01-24)
Nemyriv, Dnieper Ukraine, Russia
Died December 18, 1975(1975-12-18) (aged 75)
San Jacinto, California, United States
Fields Biology, Genetics
Notable students Francisco J. Ayala, Richard Lewontin
Spouse Natalia Sivertzeva (m. 1924, d. 1969)

Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky ForMemRS[1] (Ukrainian: Теодосій Григорович Добжанський; January 24, 1900 - December 18, 1975) was a prominent geneticist and evolutionary biologist, and a central figure in the field of evolutionary biology for his work in shaping the unifying modern evolutionary synthesis.[2] Dobzhansky was born in Ukraine (then part of Imperial Russia) and emigrated to the United States as a young man in 1927.

He published a major work of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the synthesis of evolutionary biology with genetics, in 1937.

He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1964,[3] and the Franklin Medal in 1973.



Early life

Dobzhansky was born on January 24, 1900 in Nemyriv, Ukraine (then in the Russian Empire). An only child, his father Grigory Dobzhansky was a mathematics teacher, and his mother was Sophia Voinarsky.[4] In 1910 the family moved to Kiev, Ukraine. At high school, Dobzhansky collected butterflies and decided to become a biologist.[5] In 1915, he met Victor Luchnik who convinced him to specialize in beetles instead. Dobzhansky attended the University of Kiev between 1917 and 1921, where he then studied until 1924. He then moved to Leningrad, Russia, to study under Yuri Filipchenko, where a Drosophila melanogaster lab had been established.

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

This period was one of great social upheaval in Ukraine and the Russian Empire. The First World War was followed by the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then a civil war that established the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a part of the Soviet Union.


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, 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 is credited for having studied the fruit fly in population cages,[6] and discovered that close regional varieties of flies were more similar to each other genetically than to flies from other regions.

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's work was instrumental in spreading the idea that it is through mutations in genes that natural selection takes place. Also in 1937, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. During this time he had a very public falling out with one of his Drosophila collaborators, Alfred Sturtevant, based primarily in professional competition.

In 1941 Dobzhansky was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[7] He 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 Institute (shortly to become Rockefeller University) until his retirement in 1971. In 1972 he was elected the first president of the BGA (Behavior Genetics Association) [8] and was recognised by the society for his role in behavior genetics and the founding of the society by the creation of the Dobzhansky Award (for a lifetime of outstanding scholarship in behavior genetics).

In 1970, he published Genetics of the evolutionary process.[9]

Final illness and the Light of Evolution

Dobzhansky's wife Natasha died of coronary thrombosis on February 22, 1969. Earlier (n June 1, 1968) Theodosius had been diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia (a chronic form of leukemia), and had been given a few months to a few years to live. He retired in 1971, moving to the University of California, Davis where his student Francisco Jose Ayala had been made assistant professor, and where he continued working as an emeritus professor. He published one of his most famous essays "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" at this time.

By 1975, his leukemia had become more severe, and on November 11 he travelled to San Jacinto, California for treatment and care. He died (of heart failure) on December 18. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Californian wilderness.

Religious Beliefs

A constant defender of Darwinian evolution, he was also, according to his student Francisco J. Ayala, "a religious man" who nonetheless rejected belief in "the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death."[10] However, Ernst Mayr stated the opposite: "On the other hand, famous evolutionists such as Dobzhansky were firm believers in a personal God."[11] Dobzhansky himself spoke of God as creating through evolution, and considered himself a communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[12]



  • Sinnott, E.W., Dunn, L.C and Dobzhansky, Th. 1925. Principles of Genetics. McGraw Hill. (4 editions: 1925, 1932, 1939, 1950)
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1937. Genetics and the Origin of Species. Columbia University Press, New York. (2nd ed., 1941; 3rd ed., 1951)
  • The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (1954).
  • Dunn, L. C., & Dobzhansky, Th. 1946. Heredity, Race, and Society. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., New York.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1955. Evolution, Genetics, & Man. Wiley & Sons, New York.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1962. Mankind Evolving. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1967. The Biology of Ultimate Concern. New American Library, New York.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1970. Genetics of the Evolutionary Process. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1973. Genetic Diversity and Human Equality. Basic Books, New York.
  • Dobzhansky, Th., F.J. Ayala, G.L. Stebbins & J.W. Valentine. 1977. Evolution. W.H. Freeman, San Francisco.
  • Dobzhansky, Th. 1981. 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. (reprints the 43 papers in this series, all but two of which were authored or co-authored by Dobzhansky)
  • Dobzhansky, Th., & Boesiger, E. 1983. Human Culture, A Moment in Evolution. Columbia University Press, New York.



  • Dobzhansky, Th. Wrote a recension of "The origin of races" by Carleton Coon. Dobzhansky rejected Coons theory of independent origin of identical mutations, but he did agree that selection favored a sapiens-like genotype in all proto-human populations, and expressed the theory that all sapiens-alleles existed at a low frequency in all erectus-populations, and that the statistical composition of the gene pool shifted from erectus to sapiens in multiple populations independently.

Further reading

  • Adams, M. (ed) (1994). The Evolution of Theodosius Dobzhansky : essays on his life and thought in Russia and America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691034796 (acid-free). 

See Also

  • Bateson-Dobzhansky-Muller Model


  1. ^ Ford, E. B. (1977). "Theodosius Grigorievich Dobzhansky. 25 January 1900 -- 18 December 1975". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 23: 58–26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1977.0004.  edit
  2. ^ Ayala, Francisco J. (1985). "Theodosius Dobzhansky". Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 55: 163–213. 
  3. ^ National Science Foundation - The President's National Medal of Science
  4. ^ Ford, p59.
  5. ^ Ayala, p163.
  6. ^ Acquiring genomes: a theory of the origins of species By Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Basic Books (2003) p. 94, ISBN 0465043925
  7. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  8. ^ Historical table of BGA Meetingsl
  9. ^ Genetics of the evolutionary process By Theodosius Dobzhansky, Columbia University Press (1970), ISBN 0231083068
  10. ^ Ayala FJ (1976). "Theodosius Dobzhansky: the man and the scientist". Annual Review of Genetics 10: 1–6. doi:10.1146/ PMID 797305. 
  11. ^ Shermer, M.; Sulloway, F.J. (2000). "The grand old man of evolution". Skeptic 8 (1): 76–82. 
  12. ^ Collins, Francis S (2006). The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0743286391. 

External links

Preceded by
George B. Kistiakowsky
Recipient of the Elliott Cresson Medal
Succeeded by
Nikolai Nikolaevich Bogoliubov

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky — (en ucraniano: Феодосій Григорович Добржанський) (25 de enero de 1900, Nemirov, URSS (actualmente Ucrania) 18 de diciembre de 1975, San Jacinto (California)) fue un genetista soviético, uno de los fundadores de la Teoría Sintética de la Evolución …   Wikipedia Español

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky — (russisch Феодосий Григорьевич Добржанский/Feodossi Grigorjewitsch Dobrschanski; * 24. Januar 1900 in Nemirow; † 18. Dezember 1975 in San Jacinto) war ein russisch US amerikanischer Genetiker, Zoologe und Evolutionsbiologe, der zusammen mit… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky — genetista ucraniano (1900,1975), estudió en la Universidad de Kiev y emigró a los Estados Unidos para unirse al zoólogo estadounidense Thomas Hunt Morgan en la Universidad de Columbia. Sus estudios sobre genética de poblaciones, realizados… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Théodose. Theodosius Dobzhansky (en ukrainien : Феодосій Григорович Добжанський, Feodossi Grigorovitch Dobjanski), aussi sous la graphie Théodore Dobzhansky, né le 25 janvier 1900 et mort le 18 décembre 1975 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Dobzhansky — Theodosius Dobzhansky (russisch Феодосий Григорьевич Добржанский/Feodossi Grigorjewitsch Dobrschanski; * 24. Januar 1900 in Nemirow; † 18. Dezember 1975 in San Jacinto) war ein russisch US amerikanischer Genetiker, Zoologe und Evolutionsbiologe,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Theodosius — ist unter anderem der Name dreier römischer bzw. byzantinischer Kaiser: Theodosius I., der Große (347–395, oströmischer Kaiser, letzter Kaiser des Gesamtreiches), Theodosius II. (401–450, oströmischer Kaiser), Theodosius III. (715–717,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Theodosius — (from the Greek Θεοδόσιος , Giver of God ) is a name which might refer to one of several people:* One of three emperors of ancient Rome and Byzantium: ** Theodosius I (347 ndash;395; Theodosius the Great ), son of Count Theodosius ** Theodosius… …   Wikipedia

  • Dobzhansky, Theodosius — orig. Feodosy Grigorevich Dobrzhansky born Jan. 25, 1900, Nemirov, Ukr., Russian Empire died Dec. 18, 1975, Davis, Calif., U.S. Ukrainian born U.S. geneticist and evolutionist. He immigrated in 1927 to the U.S., where he taught at the California… …   Universalium

  • Dobzhansky —   [dɔb ʒɑːnski], Theodosius, amerikanischer Biologe russischer Herkunft, * Nemirow (bei Lemberg) 25. 1. 1900, ✝ Davis (Calif.) 18. 12. 1975; ab 1921 Dozent in Kiew und Leningrad, 1929 40 Professor in Pasadena (Calif.), 1940 62 an der Columbia… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Dobzhansky , Theodosius — (1900–1975) Russian–American geneticist Dobzhansky, who was born in Nemirov, in Ukraine, graduated in zoology from Kiev University in 1921; he remained there to teach zoology before moving to Leningrad, where he taught genetics. In 1927 he took… …   Scientists

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