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The birth of biology


A history of the basic concepts in the field of biology
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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From the beginning to the end of the book it is a history of the basic concepts in the field of biology. Now, I felt qualified to do with three major branches of biology, namely, the first one being field of systematics; the second one being the field of… transmission genetics; and the third one being the field of evolution… evolution of biology. And those are the three parts of biology that I deal with in my 1982 book, and I have in… all the way through attempted to go back to the primary sources, read things that literally nobody ever reads because they always go back only to the secondary sources. And, for instance, I went back to the writings of [Friedrich] Miescher, the fellow who discovered DNA in 1869, and I found all sorts of things about Miescher that were very interesting and that you do not find in any of the histories of the discovery of DNA written by [RC] Olby and various other people who've written books on this subject. The point being, Miescher, of course, wrote in German and most people don't read German any more. But… I, as I said, I tried, if possible… for instance, French authors I also… I always went back to the original French texts in my analysis.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: 1982, The Growth of Biological Thought, 1869, Friedrich Miescher, RC Olby

Duration: 1 minute, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008