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Theodosius Dobzhansky

  Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky, also known as T. G. Dobzhansky, and sometimes Anglicized to Theodore Dobzhansky (Ukrainian — Теодосій Григорович Добжанський; January 25, 1900 to December 18, 1975) was a noted geneticist and evolutionary biologist, and a central figure in the field of evolutionary biology for his work in shaping the unifying modern evolutionary synthesis. Dobzhansky was born in Ukraine (then part of Imperial Russia) and emigrated to the United States in 1927.



Early life

Dobzhansky was born on January 25, 1900 in Nemyriv, Ukraine. An only child, his father Grigory Dobzhansky was a mathematics teacher, and his mother was Sophia Voinarska. In 1910 the family moved to Kiev, Ukraine. 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 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" Sivertzev who was working with I. I. Schmalhausen in Kiev, Ukraine. The Dobzhanskys had one daughter, Sophie, who later married the American 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. Furthermore, from 1932 to 1933, a period of mass starvation occurred in Ukraine, the Holodomor, viewed by many modern historians as genocide[1].


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 taken fruit fly research out of the laboratory and "into the field", having discovered that different 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". 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.

Dobzhansky returned to Columbia University from 1940 to 1962. He was one of the signatory 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.

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 he retired but continued working as an emeritus 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 essay "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". A loyal defender of Darwinian evolution, Dobzhansky, according to Francisco Ayala "was a religious man". Dobzhansky himself spoke of God as creating through evolution, and considered himself a communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

His leukemia became more serious 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. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Californian wilderness.



  • 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.
  • Genetic Diversity and Human Equality (1973).
  • 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. 1973. "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" The American Biology Teacher 35: (March): 125-129.
  • Dobzhansky, T., and O. Pavlovsky. 1957. "An experimental study of interaction between genetic drift and natural selection" Evolution 11: 311-319.


  1. ^ Yaroslav Bilinsky (1999). "Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 Genocide?". Journal of Genocide Research 1 (2): 147–156.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Theodosius_Dobzhansky". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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