My watch list  

Edward J. Steele

Prof. Edward J Steele, commonly known as Ted Steele is a controversial Australian molecular immunologist formerly with the University of Wollongong, now unemployed but listed as a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. Steele's research has led a resurgent interest in the French scientist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, the man who developed the first theory of evolution, pre-dating Charles Darwin by fifty years. Steele was also the subject of a media covered dispute with his employer, which led to his much publicised dismissal and subsequent reinstatement.

Additional recommended knowledge


Scientific interests

Ted Steele developed the theory of reverse transcription from the somatic (body) cells to the germline (reproductive cells). This reverse transcription process enables characteristics or bodily changes acquired during a lifetime to be written back into the DNA and passed on to subsequent generations. This is what is known as neo-Lamarckism.[1]

During the 1980s and 1990s Ted Steele clashed with the scientific establishment, particularly in the UK, over his view that Lamarck's theory of evolution had validity and applicability to modern science. Steele has stated publicly in an interview with the ABC program Lateline that his controversial theories have had a strong impact on his career "To be branded a heretic and a pariah meant that my career to keep doing research in this area were extremely limited."[2]

His book, Lamarck's Signature was variously praised and vilified by the scientific mainstream.[3] In the first decade of the 21st century however, scientists around the world have achieved experimental results that have re-awakened interest in Lamarck and supported the long-held beliefs of Ted Steele.[4]

Dismissal and dispute

In January 2001, Steele made several allegations to the media in regard to 'soft' marking and honours result upgrading of full fee paying international students. Evidence supplied by the Department of Biological Sciences (now School of Biological Sciences) at the University of Wollongong clearly showed no mark adjusting and fair examination by three examiners and weighted averaging of course work and other assessment components. Steele was promptly dismissed by UoW's Vice-Chancellor Gerard Sutton, stating that the university’s reputation was "placed at a serious and imminent risk as a result of Associate Professor Steele’s claims." It has been reported that this act overnight turned Steele into a martyr.[5] In August 2001, the Australian Federal Court found that the University of Wollongong had breached its staff enterprise agreement and did not following correct conduct and dismissal procedures in Steele's case. Following the verdict Steele expressed publicly that he wanted his job back.[6]

On April 5, 2002, UoW Vice Chancellor Gerard Sutton acceded to NTEU demands and reinstated Dr Ted Steele to his position within the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wollongong. It was made public that Steele's reinstatement was unconditional and involved backpay. President of the National Tertiary Education Union, Dr Carolyn Allport announced the importance of the victory and precedent that the courts ruling set. "The NTEU has said all along that Dr Steele was dismissed illegally. The union's position has been completely vindicated by the findings of four judges of the Federal Court and Dr Steele's subsequent reinstatement. The reinstatement comes after a 15 month legal and political campaign by the NTEU. It is a victory for all NTEU members because it clearly demonstrates that university staff cannot be dismissed without a proper and fair hearing. This requirement is the fundamental protection of intellectual freedom in Australia's universities and the successful campaign to reinstate Dr Steele has reaffirmed that protection for all Australian university staff and for the community that our universities serve."[7]

The University of Wollongong subsequently appealed the court's decision, but again lost and was ordered to pay Steele's court costs (estimated to be approx. AUD$40000). The University set out with further investigations into the allegations of soft marking in an effort to legitimately incriminate Steele, however there appeared to be a conflict of interest with Steele's former line manager being promoted to Dean, and chair of a subsequent enquiry. This led to Steele describing the UoW arbitration system as a 'Kangaroo court'.[8]

The unfair dismissal issue was resolved on July 6, 2002 when Steele and the University of Wollongong came to a confidential agreement. Although little is known in regard to the settlement, Steele did not return to the University of Wollongong.[9]. Further reading.[10],[11]

Steele is currently based at the Genomic Interactions Group & CILR at the Australian National University.[12]

Neo-Lamarckism and Research Legacy

In July 2006, Dr Corrado Spadafora published a paper providing evidence that male sex cells or sperm could indeed receive foreign genetic material - information from body cells being written back into the germline DNA. Spadafora presented evidence that a green fluorescent protein, a genetic tag attached to the sperm of a father subsequently showed up in the tissue or body cells of his progeny. He announced that there is in all mature spermatozoa, an efficient machinery to receive information from external DNA molecules and that this behavior is widespread. It has been observed in sperm from more than 30 species, from sea urchins to honey bees to humans. In about a quarter of cases the foreign genes have appeared in the next generation.[13] Neo-Darwinians combine the theories of Darwin and the work of Mendel in shaping their evolutionary dogma. Spadafora announced in his paper that the genetic transfer mechanism he had discovered involves the generation and ‘non-Mendelian’ spread of new genetic information beyond that supposedly locked up in the chromosomes.

Simultaneously, in California, molecular biologist Dr Patrick Fogarty, working on gene therapy in animals and humans, found that foreign genes inserted into mice appeared in cells: both body cells and sex cells. He established even more evidence of the effect of reverse transcription or the writing of information back into the DNA of sex cells. But fundamental question for both Fogarty and Ted Steele, was; would the DNA appear in the offspring? Would the new reverse imprint be passed on to progeny? This was the critical evidence needed to demonstrate Lamarckian inheritance.[14] Having established the facts of the reverse transcription in the adult mouse, Fogarty announced, ‘we also examined the offspring and lo and behold, we found it showing up in a large percentage of the progeny as well.’ In fact, Fogarty and his team were achieving success in up to seventy per cent of progeny. ‘It’s very Lamarckian,’ he said, ‘because we take that animal and we not only change its functions and genotype but it carries through and changes the whole offspring as well.’

Selected publications

  • Steele, E.J.- Somatic Selection and Adaptive Evolution: On the Inheritance of Acquired Characters. 2nd Edition. Revised with an author's Postscript, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.
  • Steele, E.J., Lindley, R.A. & Blanden, R.V. Lamarck's Signature: How retrogenes are changing the natural selection paradigm. Allen & Unwin, Frontiers of Science: Series Editor Paul Davies, Sydney, Australia, 1998. In the USA, published by Addison-Wesley-Longman under Perseus Book imprint, Reading, MT, 1998


  1. ^ The implications of Steele's soma-to-germline feedback for the safety of somatic gene therapy in humans
  2. ^ Interview on ABC Lateline
  3. ^ Robyn Williams Interview with Ted Steele
  4. ^ See Wikipedia article on Lamarckism, especially Neo-Lamarckism
  5. ^ When dollars do all the talking - "The sacking of an academic suggests that commercial issues outweigh free speech" The Australian, 18 April 2001, p. 35 (Brian Martin)[1]
  6. ^ Story from ABC News
  7. ^ Ted Steele reinstated - University of Wollongong finally comes to its senses NTEU archives
  8. ^ Article from the Institute of Science and Society
  10. ^ "Axed academic treated ‘worse than murderer’" by Aban Contractor, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February, 2002.[2]
  11. ^ "Sacked whistleblower gets university job back" by Aban Contractor, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 March 2002.[3]
  12. ^ Profile and webpage at ANU
  13. ^ Generation of biologically active retro-genes upon interaction of mouse spermatozoa with exogenous DNA
  14. ^ Business Wirefrom, press release

See also

  • Marion J. Lamb
  • Eva Jablonka
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Edward_J._Steele". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE