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Conrad Hal Waddington FRS FRSE (19051975), known to his friends as "Wad", was a developmental biologist, paleontologist, geneticist, embryologist and philosopher. He also laid the foundations for systems biology, and had wide interests that included poetry and painting, as well as left-wing political leanings.


Waddington was educated at Clifton College and Cambridge University, where he was a lecturer in zoology and a Fellow of Christ's College until 1942. His interests began with palaeontology but moved on to the heredity and development of living things. He also studied philosophy.

During World War II he was involved in operational research with the Royal Air Force and became scientific advisor to the Commander in Chief of Coastal Command from 1944 to 1945.

He became Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh.

He married Justin, daughter of the writer Amber Reeves, and was the father of noted mathematician Dusa McDuff and noted anthropologist Caroline Humphrey.

His personal papers are largely kept at the University of Edinburgh library.

The epigenetic landscape

Waddington's epigenetic landscape (illustration of the concept) is a metaphor for how gene regulation determines development. One is asked to imagine a number of marbles rolling down a hill towards a wall. The marbles will compete for the grooves on the slope, and come to rest at the lowest points. These points represent the eventual cell fates, that is, tissue types.

Waddington also coined other essential concepts, such as canalisation, which refers to the ability of an organism to produce the same phenotype in various different environments.

Waddington tried to reconcile Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's ideas on the inheritance of acquired characters with modern biology, with moderate success.

Waddington as organiser

Waddington was very active in advancing biology as a discipline. He contributed to a book on the role of the sciences in times of war, and helped set up several professional bodies representing biology as a discipline. A remarkable number of his contemporary colleagues in Edinburgh became Fellows of the Royal Society during his time there, or shortly thereafter.

Selected works

  • Waddington, C. H. (1941). The Scientific Attitude, Pelican Books
  • Waddington, C. H. (1946). How animals develop. London : George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
  • Waddington, C. H. (1947). Organisers & genes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Waddington, C. H. (1956). Principles of Embryology. London : George Allen & Unwin.
  • Waddington, C. H (1959). Biological organisation cellular and subcellular : proceedings of a Symposium. London: Pergamon Press.
  • Waddington, C. H (1960). The ethical animal. London : George Allen & Unwin.
  • Waddington, C. H (1961). The human evolutionary system. In: Michael Banton (Ed.), Darwinism and the Study of Society. London: Tavistock.
  • Waddington, C. H. (1966). Principles of development and differentiation. New York: Macmillan Company.
  • Waddington, C. H. (1966). New patterns in genetics and development. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Waddington, C. H., ed. (1968-72). Towards a Theoretical Biology. 4 vols. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

See also

The development of phenotype
Key concepts: Genotype-phenotype distinction | Norms of reaction | Gene-environment interaction | Heritability | Quantitative genetics
Genetic architecture: Dominance relationship | Epistasis | Polygenic inheritance | Pleiotropy | Plasticity | Canalisation | Fitness landscape
Non-genetic influences: Epigenetic inheritance | Epigenetics | Maternal effect | dual inheritance theory
Developmental architecture: Segmentation | Modularity
Evolution of genetic systems: Evolvability | Mutational robustness | Evolution of sex
Influential figures: C. H. Waddington | Richard Lewontin
Debates: Nature versus nurture
List of evolutionary biology topics

External links

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