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William Bateson

William Bateson (Robin Hood's Bay, August 8, 1861 – February 8, 1926) was a British geneticist, a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. He was the first person to use the term genetics to describe the study of heredity and biological inheritance, and the chief populariser of the ideas of Gregor Mendel following their rediscovery in 1900 by Hugo de Vries and Carl Correns.


Bateson was the son of William Henry Bateson, Master of St John's College, Cambridge. He was educated at Rugby School and at St John's College in Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1883 with a first in natural sciences.[1] Taking up embryology, he went to the United States to investigate the development of Balanoglossus. In 1883-4 he worked in the laboratory of W. K. Brooks, at Hampstead, U.S.A. Turning from morphology to study evolution and its methods, he returned to England and became a Fellow of St John's. Studying variation and heredity, he travelled in western Central Asia.

In 1894 Bateson published Materials for the study of variation: treated with special regard to discontinuity in the origin of species, in which he catalogued unusual physical variations in animal specimens, and classified each variation as either a deviation from the expected number of a certain body part; or as one in which an expected body part has been replaced by another (which he called homeotic). The animal variations he studied included bees with legs instead of antennae; crayfish with extra oviducts; and in humans, polydactyly, extra ribs, and males with extra nipples.[2]

Bateson became famous as the outspoken Mendelian antagonist of Walter Raphael Weldon, his former teacher, and Karl Pearson who led the biometric school of thinking. This concerned the debate over saltationism versus gradualism (Darwin had been a gradualist, but Bateson was a saltationist). Later, Ronald Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane showed that discrete mutations were compatible with gradual evolution: see the modern evolutionary synthesis.
Crayon drawing by D.G. Lillie, 1909.

Bateson was the first to suggest the word "genetics" (from the Greek gennō, γεννώ; to give birth) to describe the study of inheritance and the science of variation in a personal letter to Adam Sedgwick, dated April 18, 1905. Bateson first used the term "genetics" publicly at the Third International Conference on Plant Hybridization in London in 1906. Although this was three years before Wilhelm Johannsen used the word "gene" to describe the units of hereditary information, De Vries had introduced the word "pangene" for the same concept already in 1889 and etymologically the word genetics finds its origin in Darwin's concept of pangenesis.

Bateson co-discovered genetic linkage with Reginald Punnett, and he and Punnett founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910. Bateson also coined the term "epistasis" to describe the genetic interaction of two independent traits.

In his later years he was a friend and confidant of the German Erwin Baur. Their correspondence includes their discussion of eugenics.

His son was the anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson.


1. ^ Bateson, William in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
2. ^ Sean B. Carroll (2005). Endless Forms most beautiful: the new science of Evo Devo. W. W. Norton. pp. 46, 48.

Further reading

* Bateson, William & Mendel, Gregor, Mendel's Principles of Heredity. A Defence, with a Translation of Mendel’s Original Papers on Hybridisation; Cambridge University Press, 1902 (reissued by the publisher, 2009, ISBN 9781108006132)
* Bateson, Beatrice, William Bateson, Naturalist. His Essays and Addresses together with a Short Account of his Life; Cambridge University Press, 1928 (reissued by the publisher 2009, ISBN 9781108004343)
* Schwartz JH (February 2007). "Recognizing William Bateson's contributions". Science 315 (5815): 1077. doi:10.1126/science.315.5815.1077b. PMID 17322045.
* Harper PS (October 2005). "William Bateson, human genetics and medicine". Human Genetics 118 (1): 141–51. doi:10.1007/s00439-005-0010-3. PMID 16133188.
* Hall BK (January 2005). "Betrayed by Balanoglossus: William Bateson's rejection of evolutionary embryology as the basis for understanding evolution". Journal of Experimental Zoology. Part B. Molecular and Developmental Evolution 304 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1002/jez.b.21030. PMID 15668943.
* Bateson P (August 2002). "William Bateson: a biologist ahead of his time". Journal of Genetics 81 (2): 49–58. doi:10.1007/BF02715900. PMID 12532036. http://www.ias.ac.in/jgenet/Vol81No2/49.pdf.
* Gillham NW (December 2001). "Evolution by jumps: Francis Galton and William Bateson and the mechanism of evolutionary change". Genetics 159 (4): 1383–92. PMID 11779782.
* Richmond ML (March 2001). "Women in the early history of genetics. William Bateson and the Newnham College Mendelians, 1900-1910". Isis 92 (1): 55–90. doi:10.1086/385040. PMID 11441497.
* Harvey RD (January 1995). "Pioneers of genetics: a comparison of the attitudes of William Bateson and Erwin Baur to eugenics". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 49 (1): 105–17. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1995.0007. PMID 11615278.
* Olby R (October 1987). "William Bateson's introduction of Mendelism to England: a reassessment". British Journal for the History of Science 20 (67): 399–420. doi:10.1017/S0007087400024201. PMID 11612343.
* Harvey RD (November 1985). "The William Bateson letters at the John Innes Institute". The Mendel Newsletter (25): 1–11. PMID 11620779.
* Cock AG (January 1983). "William Bateson's rejection and eventual acceptance of chromosome theory". Annals of Science 40: 19–59. doi:10.1080/00033798300200111. PMID 11615930.
* Cock AG (1980). "William Bateson's pilgrimages to Brno. Cesty Williama Batesona do Brna". Folia Mendeliana 65 (15): 243–50. PMID 11615869.
* Cock AG (June 1977). "The William Bateson papers". The Mendel Newsletter 14: 1–4. PMID 11609980.
* Darden L (1977). "William Bateson and the promise of Mendelism". Journal of the History of Biology 10 (1): 87–106. doi:10.1007/BF00126096. PMID 11615639.
* Cock AG (1973). "William Bateson, Mendelism and biometry". Journal of the History of Biology 6: 1–36. doi:10.1007/BF00137297. PMID 11609732.

External links

* William Bateson 1894. Materials for the Study of Variation, treated with special regard to discontinuity in the Origin of Species
* William Bateson 1902. Mendel's Principles of Heredity, a defence
* Punnett and Bateson
* Opposition to Bateson - Documents by, or about, Bateson are on Donald Forsdyke's webpages

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