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A Century of Geneticists: Mutation to Medicine

When it comes to medical genetics, Krishna Dronamraju (fellow, medical genetics, 1965) literally was present at its creation. He worked with Victor McKusick ’46, considered the father of the field, on McKusick’s early studies of inherited disorders among the Amish of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

In 2012, Dronamraju and Clair Francomano ’80 co-edited Victor McKusick and the History of Medical Genetics, a collection of admiring essays about their mentor. Now 82, Dronamraju has single-handedly produced an intriguing new collection of brief profiles describing the accomplishments of 21 scientists whose contributions to our comprehension of genetics over the past century—both in humans and in plants—helped establish the profound importance of the field.

Dronamraju notes in his introduction that scientific discoveries often have been neglected, resulting in unfortunate “missed opportunities.” The groundbreaking findings of botanist Gregor Mendel (1822–84), an Augustinian friar who established the mathematical foundation of genetics, first were reported in 1865—but largely ignored for 40 years because “he was not a respected academic.”

It took the rediscovery of Mendel’s work around 1900 by two of the geneticists Dronamraju profiles, Hugo DeVries (1848–1935) and William Bateson (1861–1926)—who coined the term “genetics” for studying heredity—to awaken the world to its importance. Dronamraju’s book ensures that they and his other subjects are neither overlooked nor forgotten.

Many of the individuals Dronamraju profiles may be unfamiliar to nongeneticists—but they all are interesting, and the last profile, not surprisingly, is of Victor McKusick. NAG

A Century of Geneticists: Mutation to Medicine
Krishna Dronamraju, Ph.D.
CRC Press (2019)