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Sewall Wright

Sewall WrightAKA Sewall Green Wright

Born: 21-Dec-1889
Birthplace: Melrose, MA
Died: 3-Mar-1988
Location of death: Madison, WI
Cause of death: Accident - Fall [1]

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Mathematics of evolution

Population geneticist and evolutionary theorist Sewall Wright coined the term "genetic drift" to describe the random events that change the frequency of various alleles in a population. He used mathematics to explain the action of genes in evolution, showing how natural selection, mutation, and other evolutionary pressures affect the frequencies of alleles (viable DNA coding that occupies a specific position on a chromosome) and genotypes (the genetic makeup of an organism).

Introduced in his 1931 paper "Evolution in Mendelian Populations," Wright's notion of "shifting balance" holds that a species' population is subject to different evolutionary pressures as groups become partially isolated, geographically, from others of their species, and that as one of these isolated groups arrives at a state that is better adapted to its environment through random gene-frequency drift, migrants from that group eventually travel and bring that evolutionary upgrade the species at large. This concept was disputed over several decades by Ronald Fisher, who argued that the random gene-frequency drift was of minimal importance, and that instead large populations with large-scale selection is the most effective driver in evolution.

Wright spent the first decade of his career at the Department of Agriculture, where he perfected the inbreeding coefficient, a mathematical algorithm for determining the effect of inbreeding on heterozygosity (the presence of different alleles at one or more loci on homologous chromosomes).


[1] Complications from a broken pelvis, suffered in a fall on the ice.

Father: Philip Green Wright (mathematician, b. 3-Oct-1861, d. 1934)
Mother: Elizabeth Quincy Sewall (b. 5-Jul-1865, m. 7-Frb-1889, d. 1952)
Brother: Philip Quincy Wright (political scientist, b. 28-Dec-1890, d. 17-Oct-1970)
Brother: Theodore Paul Wright (aeronautical engineer, b. 25-May-1895, d. 21-Aug-1970)
Wife: Louise Lane Williams (genetics teacher, b. 1-Aug-1894, m. 1921, d. 17-Feb-1975)
Daughter: Elizabeth Rose Wright
Son: Richard Herbert Wright (b. circa 1922, d. 1991)
Son: Robert Wright

    High School: Galesburg High School, Galesburg, IL (1906)
    University:
BS Mathematics, Lombard College (1911)
    Scholar: Experimental Evolution, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (1911-12)
    University: MS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1912)
    University: ScD, Harvard University (1915)
    Professor: Genetics, University of Chicago (1926-55)
    Professor: Leon J Cole Professor of Genetics, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1955-60)

    US Agriculture Department Animal Husbandry Statistician (1915-25)
    NAS Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal (1945)
    Weldon Memorial Prize (1947)
    NAS Kimber Genetics Award (1956)
    Darwin Medal (1966)
    National Medal of Science (1966)
    Balzan Prize (1984)
    American Philosophical Society
    Econometric Society
    Genetics Society of America
    Society for the Study of Evolution

Author of books:
Systems of Mating and Other Papers (1949)
Genetic and Biometric Foundations (1968)
Evolution and the Genetics of Populations (1968-78, four volumes)
Experimental Results and Evolutionary Deductions (1977)
Variability Within and Among Natural Populations (1978)
Evolution: Selected Papers (1986)


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