THEODOSIUS GRYGOROVYCH DOBZHANSKY was a biologist, geneticist, zoologist, the creator of the “modern synthesis” (the synthetic theory of evolution), one of the founders of the theory of population genetics, the author of a series of studies on which ideas about the “genetic construction” of humanity is based today. 


The year 1927 was the turning point in the life of Dobzhansky, this was when he arrived from the USSR to the scientific laboratory of the future Nobel laureate, American geneticist Thomas Morgan, as part of an exchange, a “business trip.” The stay expired two years later, but the young scientist was persuaded to stay, but just immigration laws in the United States were among the most strict in the world. What to do?

Morgan cheated by sending the young scientist to Canada, from where the friends would have helped him to enter the States with a Maple Leaf Visa.

But Dobzhansky told the American consul in Vancouver that he had already worked in the United States with only a “guest” visa.The reaction was immediate: the scientist was deprived of the right to enter the States, and it was demanded that he leave the territory of Canada as well.

Morgan intervened again. He contacted the head of the university where his laboratory was. And he, by a happy coincidence, was relaxing on a yacht with the President of the United States. President Herbert Hoover listened to the scientist’s arguments and instructed the Secretary of State to resolve the issue. This was done.


The scientist from Nemyriv (Vinnytsia region) made history as a super-effective and extremely fruitful scientist. He made more than three hundred discoveries, many of which have been prominent in the further development of genetics and biology.

In 1935 Dobzhansky offered a new understanding of the concept of “species” to the scientific community. Geneticists were shocked at first, but soon enough they adopted the definition of their colleague, and it is still in use.

During the lifetime of Theodosius Grygorovych, he became known as the “new Darwin”: he studied the problems of the gene pool, the synthetic theory of evolution, and chromosomal mutations. However, his most fundamental work that went down in history is the four editions of his book “Genetics and the Origin of Species” (the name of the last is “Genetics of the Evolutionary Process”). Each subsequent edition had significant additions.


The Dobzhansky’s study “Mankind Evolving” is considered a perfect synthesis of evolutional theory, anthropology, and sociology. The scientist, in fact, proved the absurdity and worthlessness of racism. He concluded that genetic identity and diversity are natural phenomena that cannot be overturned by a political decision (unlike equality and inequality), and that culture is an exceptional feature of homo sapience alone.

Every person who is at least a little educated knows what racism is. Nowadays, its manifestations and struggle against it in Ukraine is most often mentioned in the context of sports and fans. During the last century, the offense was not just in the banana thrown on the football field but in the noose around the neck (the American Ku Klux Klan) or the destruction of millions of citizens of the “wrong” race (the German Nazis).

The scientific basis for racism was summed up in the “theory of biological superiority”. In his famous book, “The myths of genetic predestination and of tabula rasa”, Dobzhansky gave a clear answer to a slippery question, based on his research: “People should be judged by their personal qualities and deeds, not by belonging to a particular biological or social group.” Which means: the “blue blood” does not exist a priori.


- The biology teacher at the Kyiv Gymnasium, where Dobzhansky studied, respected the talented student so much that he allowed him to take home a school microscope.


- The first scientific article by the young naturalist was published while he was still a student, exploring a new species of insect from the outskirts of Kyiv.

- Throughout his life, Theodosius was an ardent butterfly collector.

- According to Dostoevsky’s genealogy, Dobzhansky is a distant great-grandson of the great author Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

- In parallel with his studies at the University, Dobzhansky also gave lectures there.

- In the USSR, a scientist with a worldwide name who did not return home was officially declared an “enemy of the people.”

- In the 1960s, the Soviet authorities twice denied Dobzhansky permission to visit his homeland.

- The geneticist was an Orthodox Christian and had an honorary doctorate in theology.

- For the last seven years of his life, the scientist lived and worked actively, knowing that he was terminally ill with leukemia.


• Dobzhansky was born on January 25, 1900 in Nemyriv, in the Vinnytsia region.

• He graduated from Kyiv gymnasium number 6, and from Department of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of Kyiv State University. He also had internship in the USA.

• He worked as a lecturer at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Petrograd University, as a scientist at the Commission for the Study of Russian Natural Productive Resources, as a lecturer at the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Rockefeller University, and the University of California.

• He was a member of a number of world-renowned academies, including the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

• He held honorary doctorates from 21 universities.

• He was a medalist at the American National Academy and Kimber Award.

• He died on December 18, 1975 in Davis, California, USA. 

Mosaic with a quote by Dobzhansky on the main building of the University of Notre Dame (USA).

This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher's permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020. 



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