Short biography of Sewall Wright.

Essay by booberry April 2003

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Sewall Wright biography

Sewall Wright, a population geneticist and developer of the theory of shifting balance, was born in Massachusetts in 1889 and died in 1988 after complications from a pelvic fracture. He earned his Bachelor's degree at Lombard College in Illinois, his Master's degree at the University of Illinois and his PhD at Harvard University. Later, Wright worked for the US Department of Agriculture and as an associate professor of Zoology at the University of Chicago. Sewall Wright continued working even after his mandated retirement from the University of Chicago when he reached 65 years of age, after which he professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin where he stayed until his death in 1988.

Wright's early studies focused mostly on languages, physics, chemistry and mathematics, it wasn't until meeting scientists working on hybridization and breeding that he focused on biology. His coursework for his PhD from Harvard lead to him being able to explain the inheritance of coat characteristics in guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs figured in a large part in his experiments on population genetics and his developing his Shifting Balance Theory.

Wright had a feud with fellow scientist R.A. Fisher that lasted until Fisher's death. The conflict revolved around their differing views of the nature of recessive genes - Fisher thought the recessive traits evolved over time in mutant alleles, that is, that natural selection determined the expression of the allele; Wright believed recessive traits were new properties of mutant alleles.

His work on evolutionary theory was recorded in a paper called 'Evolution in Mendelian populations' which was published in Genetics in 1931. Wright had a large four-volume book titled, Evolution and the Genetics of Population, after his retirement from the University of Chicago. In addition to this book, he had approximately sixty papers published...