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Sewall Wright

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Sewall Green Wright ForMemRS (December 21, 1889March 3, 1988) was an American geneticist known for his influential work on evolutionary theory. Along with R. A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane, he was a founder of theoretical population genetics, and evolutionary biologists argue as to whether Wright or Fisher made the greater contribution. He is the discoverer of the inbreeding coefficient and of methods of computing it in pedigrees. He extended this work to populations, computing the amount of inbreeding of members of populations as a result of random genetic drift, and he and Fisher pioneered methods for computing the distribution of gene frequencies among populations as a result of the interaction of natural selection, mutation, migration and genetic drift. The work of Fisher, Wright, and Haldane on theoretical population genetics was a major step in the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis of genetics with evolution. Wright also made major contributions to mammalian genetics and biochemical genetics.

BiographyEdit

Sewall Wright was born in Melrose, Massachusetts to Philip Green and Elizabeth Quincy Sewall Wright. He was the youngest of three gifted brothers – the elder two being the aeronautical engineer Theodore Paul Wright and the political scientist Quincy Wright. From an early age Wright had a love and talent for mathematics and biology. Wright attended Galesburg High School, where he graduated in 1906 to enroll in Lombard College, where his father taught a number of subjects, to study mathematics. He was influenced greatly by Professor Wilhelmine Entemann Key, one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. in biology. Wright received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he worked with the pioneering mammalian geneticist William Ernest Castle investigating the inheritance of coat colors in mammals. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture until 1925, when he joined the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago. He remained there until his retirement in 1955, when he moved to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He received many honors in his long career, including the National Medal of Science, the Balzan Prize, and the Darwin Medal of the Royal Society. He was a member of the National Academy of Science and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.

Wright married Louise Lane Williams (1895-1975) in 1921, with whom he had three children: Richard, Robert, and Elizabeth.


Wright and philosophyEdit

Wright was one of the few geneticists of his time to venture into philosophy. He found a union of concept in Charles Hartshorne, who became a lifelong friend and philosophical collaborator. Wright believed that the birth of the consciousness was not due to a mysterious property of increasing complexity, but rather an inherent property, therefore implying these properties were in the most elementary particles.

LegacyEdit

Wright and Fisher were the key figures in the neodarwinian synthesis that brought genetics and evolution together. Their work was essential to the contributions of Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, Julian Huxley, and Stebbins. The neodarwinian synthesis was the most important development in evolutionary biology after Darwin. Wright also had a major effect on the development of mammalian genetics and biochemical genetics.

TriviaEdit

Since Wright developed the methods used for assessing the degree of inbreeding and its effects, it is notable that his own parents were first cousins. As a child he helped his father and brother print and publish an early book of poems by his father's student Carl Sandburg.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

Topics in population genetics(edit)
Key concepts: Hardy-Weinberg law | linkage disequilibrium | Fisher's fundamental theorem | neutral theory
Selection: natural | sexual | artificial | ecological
Genetic drift: small population size | population bottleneck | founder effect | coalescence
Founders: Ronald Fisher | J.B.S. Haldane | Sewall Wright
Related topics: evolution | microevolution | evolutionary game theory | fitness landscape
List of evolutionary biology topics
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