John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964) was an English biologist who utilized mathematical analysis to study genetic phenomena and their relation to evolution.

Born at Oxford on Nov. 5, 1892, J. B. S. Haldane was the son of John Scott Haldane, a distinguished physiologist. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Haldane taught at Oxford (1919-1922), Cambridge (1922-1933), and the University of London (1933-1957), where he was elected the first Weldon professor of genetics in 1957. A lifelong Marxist, he was a member of the British Communist party, and for a number of years he was also chairman of the editorial board of the Daily Worker, the party's newspaper. In 1950, following his differences with Soviet geneticists, he resigned from the party.

Refusing to live in what he called "a criminal and police state that had attacked Egypt, " Haldane emigrated to India in 1957 and became the director of the Orissa State Government Genetics and Biometry Laboratory. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1932, awarded the Darwin Medal in 1953, and given the Kimber Genetics Award in 1957. Author of at least 8 books, he wrote over 300 scientific papers, and over 500 articles for the Daily Worker, Reynold News, and many other publications.


Haldane's Work

A contemporary of Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright, but working independently of them, Haldane mathematically investigated problems dealing with Darwinian "variation" and established the relationship of Mendelian genetics to evolution. He also explored the possibility of estimating spontaneous mutation rates through the observation of harmful or sex-linked genes in populations. For instance, he declared that the rate of mutation of the sex-linked gene among hemophiliacs was between 10 and 50 per million per generation. With Julia Bell he investigated how close the link was between the gene which caused color blindness and that which caused hemophilia.

Haldane was also known for his work in enzyme kinetics. He adduced proof that reactions produced by enzymes obey the known laws of thermodynamics, and he mathematically calculated the rates at which enzyme reactions occur. During World War II he conducted experiments to find out how men could escape from sunken submarines without great difficulty. He showed that, by controlling Eustachian tubes, pressure on eardrums could be lessened. He determined the safest mixture of gases for breathing, depending upon depth and the duration of stay at that depth, to reduce the occurrence of bends. His outstanding contributions, however, were in mathematical genetics.

Haldane was married twice:his first marriage, in 1925, to Mrs. Charlotte Burghes almost led to his dismissal from Cambridge; in 1945 he married Dr. Helen Spurway, who survived him. Haldane died at Bhuvaneshwar, India, on Dec. 1, 1964.


Further Reading on John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

Ronald William Clark, JBS:The Life and Work of J. B. S. Haldane (1968), is a readable study that includes a complete bibliography of Haldane's scientific papers. Haldane is memorialized in an anthology of essays and papers on his work and scientific contributions of his last 50 years, K. R. Dronamraju, ed., Haldane and Modern Biology (1968), which also includes some biographical information.

Additional Biography Sources

Clark, Ronald William, J.B.S., the life and work of J.B.S. Haldane, Oxford Oxfordshire; New York:Oxford University Press, 1984, 1968.

Dronamraju, Krishna R., Haldane:the life and work of J.B.S. Haldane with special reference to India, Aberdeen:Aberdeen University Press, 1985.