William Bateson

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William Bateson.

William Bateson (August 8 1861February 8 1926) was a British geneticist. He was the first person to use the term genetics to describe the study of heredity and inheritance.


Bateson was born in Whitby, educated at Rugby School and St John's College, Cambridge, he popularised the work of Gregor Mendel in the English-speaking world. Bateson became involved in a bitter dispute with the biometricians led by his former teacher Walter Frank Raphael Weldon and by Karl Pearson. The biometricians doubted the generality of Mendel's account of heredity and also believed that evolution proceeded continuously rather than by jumps. These differences were resolved with the modern evolutionary synthesis. See Provine.

William Bateson was the first to suggest the word "genetics" (from the Greek genno γεννώ= give birth) to describe the study of inheritance and the science of variation in a personal letter to Adam Sedgwick, dated April 18, 1905. Bateson first used the term "genetics" publicly at the Third International Conference on Genetics (London, England) in 1906, three years before Wilhelm Johannsen used the word "gene" for the units of hereditary information. Thus the phenomenon of phenotype was investigated earlier than genes were discovered.

Bateson co-discovered genetic linkage with Reginald Punnett, and he and Punnett founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910.

His son was the anthropologist Gregory Bateson.


  • W. B. Provine (1971) The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics. University of Chicago Press.

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