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J. B. S. Haldane

(1892—1964) geneticist


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(1892–1964)

British geneticist, biometrician, and philosopher who made valuable contributions to the physiology of respiration and chromosome mapping but above all to popularizing science and emphasizing its political and social context.

The son of the eminent physiologist John Scott Haldane (1860–1936), whom he assisted as a child, and nephew of Richard Burdon Haldane, J. B. S. Haldane was born in Oxford and educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, until World War I interrupted his studies. During his war service he observed first-hand the effects of gas warfare and was involved in designing a more effective gas mask. In 1919 he became a fellow of New College and taught physiology. He caused a stir by using himself as guinea pig while investigating the changes in blood composition associated with respiration. Two years later he was appointed reader in biochemistry at Cambridge University, working under Frederic Gowland Hopkins on enzyme reaction kinetics. Haldane's innovative mathematical treatment of the subject is described in Enzymes (1930). Concurrent with this, he was studying genetic linkage and formulating a mathematical theory of natural selection – The Causes of Evolution (1932). Haldane was appointed professor of genetics at University College, London, in 1933 and later became professor of biometry (1937–57). He worked on linkage maps of chromosomes in various species, including the human X-chromosome, in which he pinpointed the relative positions of deleterious mutants such as those responsible for haemophilia and colour blindness.

The outbreak of the Spanish civil war prompted Haldane to join the Communist Party in 1938 and he was for several years chairman of the editorial board of the Daily Worker, for which he also wrote numerous articles about science. The Marxist Philosophy and the Sciences (1938) describes Haldane's position at this time. During World War II, he worked for the British Admiralty, investigating the physiological effects of deep-sea submersion, often at great personal risk. In protest at the Anglo-French invasion of Suez, he emigrated to India in 1957, working for a time with the Indian Statistical Office, Calcutta, before establishing a genetics and biometry laboratory in Bhubaneswar, Orissa province.


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