The Rise of Evolutionary Biology Can Be Attributed To … A Harry Potter Character?

As mentioned in my previous post, the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology during the 1930s and 1940s was the result of combining different fields, such as systematics, genetics and paleontology. The genetic piece of the evo-puzzle was put in place by Theodosius Dobzhansky, who wrote the influential Genetics and the Origin of Species in 1937. He is best known for his essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, published in 1973 (also the quote above this blog).

Two other important players during the Modern Synthesis were the ornithologist Ernst Mayr and the botanist Edgar Anderson. In a recent paper, Kim Kleinman (Webster University) describes the correspondence between these two gentlemen in preparation of the Jesup Lectures in 1941. A sentence in a letter from Anderson to Mayr on the 26th of December 1940 caught my eye:

Among botanists taxonomy is the one generally used in the United States and systematics in England. You may tell Dobby for that his thinking is like a European…

Wait a minute! Dobby? Apparently, Anderson and Mayr used Dobzhansky’s nickname Dobby during their writing. Of course everyone knows that Dobby is also a character in the Harry Potter series. This house-elf served the malicious Malfoy family until he was rescued by Harry Potter and his friends.

I think I will not be able to read anything from Dobzhansky without thinking about J.K. Rowlings work from now on. But at least, both writers have made this world a more magical place!

Dobby and Dobby
Dobby and Dobby


Kleinman, K. (2012). Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Botanist: Edgar Anderson Prepares the 1941 Jesup Lectures with Ernst Mayr Journal of the History of Biology, 46 (1), 73-101 DOI: 10.1007/s10739-012-9325-9


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