Warwick Estevam Kerr

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Warwick Estevam Kerr (9 September 1922 – 15 September 2018) was a Brazilian agricultural engineer, geneticist, entomologist, professor and scientific leader, notable for his discoveries in the genetics and sex determination of bees. The Africanized bee, which has been created from Tanzania queen bees, are interbred in Europe and South Africa by Kerr[1]. The spread of this killer bee was a result of a new beekeeper who accidentally released them in 1957 in Rio Claro, Brazil.


Kerr was born in 1922 in Santana do Parnaíba, São Paulo, Brazil, the son of Américo Caldas Kerr and Bárbara Chaves Kerr. The Kerr family immigrated by way of the United States. His family is originally from Scotland. The family moved to Pirapora do Bom Jesus, SP in 1925. He attended secondary school and the preparatory course at the Mackenzie in São Paulo and subsequently was admitted to the Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz of the University of São Paulo, at Piracicaba, São Paulo, where he graduated as agricultural engineer.

From March 1975 to April 1979, Kerr moved to Manaus, Amazonas, as director of the National Institute of Amazonia Research (INPA), a research institute of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). He officially retired from the University of São Paulo in January 1981, but not from scientific life. Exactly eleven days later he accepted a position as Full Professor at the Universidade Estadual do Maranhão in São Luís, state of Maranhão, where he became responsible for creating the Department of Biology; and, for a short period (1987–1988) served also as Dean of the University. He moved to the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, in Uberlândia, state of Minas Gerais, in February 1988, as a Professor of Genetics.

Scientific contributions[edit]

His scientific life began in Piracicaba, where he received his doctorate (D.Sc) and later was an assistant professor. In 1951, he did postdoctoral studies as a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Davis and, in 1952, at Columbia University, where he studied with the famous geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky.

In 1958, he was invited by Professor Dias da Silveira to assist in organizing the Department of Biology at the Faculdade de Ciências do Rio Claro, of the recently created State University of São Paulo UNESP, in the city of Rio Claro, where he stayed until 1964, directing a research group on the genetics of bees, his main field of specialization. From 1962 to 1964, he served as the Scientific Director to organize the recently created São Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP).

In December 1964, he accepted the position of Full Professor of Genetics at the Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto of the University of São Paulo, in order to create a new Department of Genetics. In this capacity, Kerr was able to establish a research center of excellence, particularly in the areas of entomological genetics and human genetics, and that trained many masters and doctoral students. The department included a new research and teaching area, that of mathematical biology and biostatistics, the first of its kind in a medical school in Brazil; and was a pioneer in the use of computers in biology and medicine, particularly for genetics applied to animal husbandry.

In all these positions he never stopped his research on Meliponini, especially the genus Melipona, which is a genus of Neotropical bees that are frequently subject to the predatory action of wild honey gatherers (meleiros in Portuguese). Kerr became well known for his research on the hybridization of the African bee and the Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica). Kerr has 620 publications on various subjects. Apart from being a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, he was also a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA,[2] and of the Third World Academy of Sciences. He was admitted by President Itamar Franco to the National Order of Scientific Merit at the Grã-Cruz class in 1994.

Selected papers[edit]

  • W. E. Kerr; Gerace, L; Leister, F; Sofer, W (1975). "Evolution of the population structure in bees". Genetics. 79 (1): 73–84. PMC 1213261. PMID 1126622.
  • W. E. Kerr (1976). "Population genetic studies in bees. 2 sex-limited genes". Evolution. Evolution, Vol. 30, No. 1. 30 (1): 94–99. doi:10.2307/2407676. JSTOR 2407676.
  • W. E. Kerr (1987). "Sex determination in bees. XXI. Number of XO-heteroalleles in a natural population of Melipona compressipes fasciculata (Apidae)". Insectes Sociaux. 34 (4): 274–27. doi:10.1007/BF02224359.
  • W. E. Kerr & R. A. da Cunha (1990). "Sex determination in bees. XXVI Masculinism of workers in the Apidae". Brazilian Journal of Genetics. 13: 479–489.
  • W. E. Kerr (1992). "The bee or not the bee?". The Times Literary Supplement.