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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1955:   Population Genetics: The Nature and Causes of Genetic Variability in Population, Vol. XX

Organizer: Milislav Demerec

Table of Contents

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The evolutionary aspects of genetics was first developed as a theoretical science through the work of three scientists beginning in the late 1910s-R. A. Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane and Sewall Wright. These men laid the foundations for population genetics in which rather daunting mathematics was used to describe the distribution of genes within "...a reproductive community of individuals who share in a common gene pool" (Dobzhansky).

But it was hoped, following the rediscovery of Mendel's work, that experimental genetics would contribute to understanding evolution. The Carnegie Institution's Station for the Experimental Evolution had been founded at Cold Spring Harbor in 1904 "..to investigate experimentally the origin of species." However, rather rapidly the study of genetics-independent of its evolutionary implications-came to dominate the work of the Station, a change that led to a new title-the Department of Genetics-in 1921.

Nevertheless, work on experimental evolution flourished at the Biological Laboratory although there was only one staff member-Bruce Wallace-who was a population geneticist. It did so because Wallace was joined by summer researchers who included Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky and Sewall Wright. Cold Spring Harbor had a special significance for Sewall Wright who spent a month there in the summer of 1920. It was there that he met his future wife and proposed to her at the end of the month.

The Symposium was divided into theoretical and experimental sections. It opened with a reflective review by Dobzhansky on what constituted population genetics, before moving on to mathematical contributions from Sewall Wright, Motoo Kimura, James Crow and Kenneth Mather. A particularly interesting paper was given by Anthony

Allison who discussed polymorphisms in man and the environmental pressures that select for different alleles. Amongst the experimentalists, Hampton Carlson and Bruce Wallace reported their studies of Drosophila in wild populations. However, as Ernst Mayr put it in the last paper of the meeting, "...the uncharted white area separating the two explored areas (theoretical and observational) are largely unknown."

The volume was notable that it was the first attended by J. C. Foothills of Tennessee Intermountain College, Nazareth, Tennessee. Inexplicably the reference to Foothills in the index of the 1955 volume leads to a page in Motoo Kimura's paper, full of the most impressive and abstruse equations. And although Foothills is listed in the caption to a photograph of Kimura, Emanuel Hackel and Ernst Mayr, he or she appears to have bent down to pick something up, just at the moment the photograph was taken. In fact, J. C. was the creation of the Symposium editor, Katherine (Kitty) Brehme Warren, whose favorite phrase when things were going wrong was "Jesus Christ in the foothills!".

Jan A. Witkowski

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