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John Burdon Sanderson Haldane


(J.B.S. Haldane)

1892 - 1964

Biologist and geneticist. Born in Oxford (England), into a noted Scottish family, Haldane was the son of respiratory physiologist John Scott Haldane (1860 - 1936) and brother of authoress Naomi Mitchison (1897 - 1999). He was educated at Eton and New College (Oxford). The First World War interrupted his studies, although this gave him the opportunity to see the effects of gas warfare and he was involved in gas mask design. After the war, he returned to New College and taught physiology. Haldane joined the teaching staff at the University of Cambridge (1922) before being appointed to a Chair in Genetics at University College, London, (1933). He was appointed to a Chair of Biometry in the same institution (1937).

Haldane made contributions in respiratory physiology, evolution and population genetics. He identified the location of the chromosome mutations responsible for haemophilia and colour blindness and worked on enzyme reaction kinetics. Haldane's innovations in terms of the latter field are described in his book Enzymes (1930). He also wrote The Causes of Evolution (1932) which is an immensely readable milestone in the development of evolutionary theory.

Politically a Marxist, the rise of fascism in Spain persuaded Haldane to join the Communist Party (1938) and he chaired the editorial board of the Daily Worker (1940-9), also writing numerous articles about science. He is particularly noted for popularising science and emphasising its political and social context. Disillusioned by its direction, he left the British Communist Party in 1956.

In protest at the British Government's response to the Suez Crisis, he emigrated for India in 1957. He adopted Indian nationality and worked with the Indian Statistical Office (Calcutta), before establishing a genetics and biometry laboratory in Bhubaneswar (Orissa).

He continued to write prodigiously until he died in India.


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