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Theodosius Dobzhansky, ca.1966
Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky, also known as T. G. Dobzhansky, and sometimes Anglicized to Theodore Dobzhansky (Ukrainian — Теодосій Григорович Добжанський; January 24, 1900 - 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 Ukrainemarker (then part of Imperial Russiamarker) and emigrated to the United Statesmarker in 1927.


Early life

Dobzhansky was born on January 24, 1900 in Nemyrivmarker, Ukrainemarker (then in the Russian Empiremarker). An only child, his father Grigory Dobzhansky was a mathematics teacher, and his mother was Sophia Voinarsky. In 1910 the family moved to Kievmarker, Ukrainemarker. At high school, Dobzhansky collected butterflies and decided to become a biologist. 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, Russiamarker, 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 Kievmarker, Ukrainian SSR. 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 Unionmarker.


Dobzhansky emigrated to the United States in 1927 on a scholarship from International Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation arriving in New Yorkmarker 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 Technologymarker from 1930 to 1940. Dobzhansky is credited for having taken fruit fly research out of the laboratory and "into the field", having 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 Statesmarker. 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 signatories of the 1950 UNESCO statement The Race Question. He then moved to the Rockefeller Institute (shortly to become Rockefeller Universitymarker) until his retirement in 1971. In 1972 he was elected the first president of the BGA (Behavior Genetics Association) 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).

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, Davismarker where his student Francisco Jose Ayala had been made assistant professor, and where 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 more severe, and on November 11 he travelled to San Jacintomarker, Californiamarker for treatment and care. He died (of heart failure) on December 18. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Californian wilderness.

Belief in God

A constant defender of Darwinian evolution and founder of the BGA (Behavior Genetics Association), Dobzhansky, according to Francisco J. Ayala never the less "was a religious man". Dobzhansky himself spoke of God as creating through evolution, and considered himself a communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church.



  • 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.



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