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William Bateson

(1861—1926) biologist


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(1861–1926)

British geneticist, whose work reaffirmed the fundamental importance of Mendel's genetic principles and who, in 1907, originated the term ‘genetics’ for the science of heredity.

Born in Whitby, Yorkshire, Bateson received his BA from Cambridge University in 1883 and two years later was appointed fellow of St John's College. In 1908 he became the first British professor of genetics (at Cambridge) and in 1910 was appointed director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution. From the outset a zoologist, Bateson was among the first to observe the possible evolutionary relationship between echinoderms and primitive chordates. Most significant, however, was his series of breeding experiments from 1900 onwards that helped re-establish the truth of Mendel's principles of heredity (established by experiments with pea plants). By using the domestic fowl, Bateson demonstrated that these principles applied to animals as well as plants. He also discovered examples of hereditary characters that exhibited incomplete dominance and, most notably, linkage, i e a tendency to be inherited together rather than independently. However, Bateson was opposed to the increasingly held view that chromosomes were the carriers of genes and proposed his own vibratory theory of inheritance. Involving unorthodox ideas about inherent bodily forces, this was consistent with Bateson's antagonism to what he saw as the utilitarianism in many aspects of evolutionary theory and led to his estrangement from the scientific mainstream.

His books include Mendel's Principles of Heredity (1909) and Problems of Genetics (1913). In 1910 he founded, with his colleague R. C. Punnett, the Journal of Genetics.


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