C. H. Waddington

Conrad Hal Waddington CBE FRS FRSE (8 November 1905 26 September 1975) was a British developmental biologist, paleontologist, geneticist, embryologist and philosopher who laid the foundations for systems biology, epigenetics, and evolutionary developmental biology.

He attended Clifton College and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He took the Natural Sciences Tripos, earning a First in Part II in geology in 1926. In 1928, he was awarded an Arnold Gerstenberg Studentship in the University of Cambridge, whose purpose was to promote "the study of Moral Philosophy and Metaphysics among students of Natural Science, both men and women." He took up a Lecturership in Zoology and was a Fellow of Christ's College until 1942. His friends included Gregory Bateson, Walter Gropius, C. P. Snow, Solly Zuckerman, Joseph Needham, and John Desmond Bernal. His interests began with palaeontology but moved on to the heredity and development of living things. He also studied philosophy.

Waddington was married twice. His first marriage produced a son, C. Jake Waddington, professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, but ended in 1936. He then married Margaret Justin Blanco White, daughter of the writer Amber Reeves, with whom he had two daughters, the anthropologist Caroline Humphrey (1943-) and mathematician Dusa McDuff (1945-).

In the late 1930s, Waddington produced formal models about how gene regulatory products could generate developmental phenomena, showed how the mechanisms underpinning Drosophila development could be studied through a systematic analysis of mutations that affected the development of the Drosophila wing. In a period of great creativity at the end of the 1930s, he also discovered mutations that affected cell phenotypes and wrote his first textbook of "developmental epigenetics", a term that then meant the external manifestation of genetic activity.

Waddington proposed an evolutionary process, "genetic assimilation", as a Darwinian mechanism that allows certain acquired characteristic to become heritable. According to Navis, (2007) "Waddington focused his genetic assimilation work on the crossveinless trait of Drosophila. This trait occurs with high frequency in heat-treated flies. After a few generations, the trait can be found in the population, without the application of heat, based on hidden genetic variation that Waddington asserted had been "assimilated".

A remarkable number of his contemporary colleagues in Edinburgh became Fellows of the Royal Society during his time there, or shortly thereafter. Waddington was an old-fashioned intellectual who lived in both the arts and science milieus of the 1950s and wrote widely. His 1960 book Behind Appearance; a Study Of The Relations Between Painting And The Natural Sciences In This Century (MIT press) not only has wonderful pictures but is still worth reading. Waddington was, without doubt, the most original and important thinker about developmental biology of the pre-molecular age and the medal of the British Society for Developmental Biology is named after him.

DEFINITIONS OF EPIGENETICS

MOLECULAR BASIS OF EPIGENETICS

MECHANISMS OF EPIGENETICS

EPIGENETICS IN BACTERIA

MEDICINE AND EPIGENETICS

PSYHOLOGY AND PSYCHIATRY OF EPIGENETICS

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