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Richard Lewontin: Race as a Biological Illusion

Evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, an opponent of sociobiology and biological determinism and a strong advocate of defining race strictly as a socially but not biologically meaningful category, was born in New York on this date in 1929. In 1972, Lewontin identified that most of the genetic variation within human populations is found within local geographic groups, and that differences among so-called […]

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Micro-Organisms and the Nobel Prize

Salvador Lurie, a Nobel Prize-winning Italian microbiologist who was shunned by Mussolini and forced to flee to the U.S. by Hitler, was born in Turin on this date in 1912. Lurie and his co-winners of the 1969 Nobel, Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, studied the genetic structures of viruses and bacteria. The 1943 Luria-Delbrück experiment showed that genetic mutations occur […]

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February 15: A Geneticist and Ethicist

Molecular biologist Maxine Frank Singer, who raised early alarms about the ethical issues involved in recombinant DNA research and organized the 1975 Asilomar Conference, which issued guidelines for dealing with those issues, was born in New York on this date in 1931. Singer was president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1988 until 2002, […]

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February 9: Reverse Transcription in Genetics

Howard Martin Temin, who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the reverse transcriptase — the enzyme that makes possible an interchange of information between RNA and DNA — died at 59 on this date in 1994. Temin was born in Philadelphia to progressive Jewish parents; for his bar mitsve, the family donated […]

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August 7: Paul Kammerer’s Midwife Toad

American zoologist G. Kingsley Noble (not Jewish) debunked the researches of Viennese scientist Paul Kammerer, which supported the Lamarckian theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, in Nature magazine on this date in 1926. Kammerer’s work with midwife toads, in which he claimed to have induced the development of nuptial pads that were then inherited […]

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May 14: Genetics in the Atomic Age

Charlotte “Lottie” Auerbach, a geneticist who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and built a career in Edinburgh, where her work on mutations proved to be classified and could not be published until 1947, was born within a family of scientists in Krefeld, Germany on this date in 1899. Auerbach was a pioneering geneticist, an expert […]

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February 28: The Bubble Chamber

Donald A. Glaser, who at age 34 won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physics for his creation in 1952 of the bubble chamber, a vessel filled with a superheated transparent liquid (usually liquid hydrogen) that can be used to detect electrically charged particles moving through it, died at 86 on this date in 2013. Glaser’s […]

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April 19: How Genes Turn On and Off

François Jacob, a French Jewish scientist who was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in medicine for his research into how cells turn genes on and off, died at 92 on this date in 2013. Jacob was the grandson of France’s first Jewish military general, and quit medical school after the Nazi invasion of France to […]

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February 25: Phoebus Levene and the Elements of DNA

Phoebus Levene (Fishel Aaronovich Levin), a biochemist who pioneered the study of nucleic acids, the building blocks of life, and distinguished DNA from RNA, was born in Lithuania on this date in 1869. He studied medicine and chemistry in St. Petersburg and became an MD in 1891, two years before pogroms in the Russian Empire […]

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August 2: The Immunologist

Venezuelan-born Baruj (Baruch) Benacerraf, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research into the role of genes in the human immune system, died in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on this date in 2011. Benacerraf’s discoveries helped explain why some people are able to resist auto-immune diseases (multiple sclerosis, lupus, and others) […]

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