National Medal of Science
For original and sustained contributions to the mathematical foundations of the theory of evolution and for basic contributions to experimental and biometrical genetics.
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BirthDecember 16, 1889
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsCombining Genetics With Evolution
Modern Evolutionary Synthesis
Awarded byLyndon Baines Johnson
Areas of ImpactHealth & Medicine
AffiliationsUniversity of Wisconsin
In high school, Sewall Wright read Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” likely not realizing the impact it would have on his life.
During his career, Wright, a geneticist, furthered the studies of the famous evolutionary theorist, fathering many theories of his own.
One of them – the concept of “genetic drift” – demonstrates through mathematics how new species are created when rare genes within a small, isolated population fail to pass onto the next generation.
Unlike natural selection, genetic drift occurs randomly and isn’t tied to animals adapting to an environment.
As a senior animal husbandman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wright also worked to improve livestock through calculations to evaluate inbreeding in populations.
Serious about his work, Wright didn’t take kindly to misinterpretation from the larger scientific community – a fact recounted in his 1980 work “Genic and Organismic Selection.”
“A false statement, backed by great prestige, propagates exponentially at second and third hand,” he wrote.