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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1959:   Genetics and Twentieth Century Darwinism, Vol. XXIV

Organizer: Milislav Demerec

Table of Contents

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This Symposium was held to mark the centenary of the publication of the Origin of Species. As Demerec pointed out, the "...first laboratory devoted to the study of Mendelian inheritance was named 'Station for Experimental Evolution'" and had been established at Cold Spring Harbor by Charles Davenport. The Station had moved away from evolutionary studies (although Dobzhansky and Mayr, as summer visitors, and Bruce Wallace, as a staff member, had kept some evolutionary studies going through the 1940s) and been transformed into the Carnegie Institution's Department of Genetics.

Demerec had come to Department of Genetics in 1923 where he studied unstable genes in Drosophila and was later responsible for the change to bacterial genetics.This was the last Symposium he organized and he retired in 1960 from both his posts at Cold Spring Harbor-as director of the Biological Laboratory and of the Department of Genetics. Demerec remained on Long Island, going first to Brookhaven National Laboratory and then to the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University.

This Symposium had a rather similar composition to that held nine years earlier on Origin and Evolution of Man; participants included geneticists, ecologists, anthropologists and paleontologists. But the meeting seems to have had a firmer scientific basis, perhaps because

it was not so tightly focused on human evolution. The published volume is notable also for the paucity of complicated equations compared with previous Symposia covering population genetics—neither Sewall Wright or Richard Lewontin, although present, gave papers. The meeting began with presentations by Ernst Mayr and Th. Dobzhansky, each giving masterful overviews of the intertwined histories of genetics and evolutionary studies and the current state of the field. The closing remarks were given by G. Ledyard Stebbins, the eminent plant evolutionist. He pointed out that this diverse group of scientists had reached agreement on concepts "...remarkably similar to those which Darwin himself held..."; that is to say, the twentieth-century integration of genetics and evolutionary studies had led to a strengthening of the fundamental tenets of Darwinian evolution, a very satisfactory conclusion to a meeting to celebrate Darwin.

Jan A. Witkowski

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