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Department of Genetics


'Lines of Thought' an exhibition at the University Library, includes a section entitled 'The Evolution of Genetics : From Darwin to DNA'

Visitors can see William Bateson's letter to Adam Sedgwick, dated 18 April 1905, in which he first used the term 'Genetics' after demonstrably struggling to find a suitable definition:

Dear Sedgwick

If the Quick Fund were used for the foundation of a Professorship relating to [Experimental Breeding - this term is then crossed out and substituted with..] Heredity & Variation, the best title would, I think, be 'The Quick Professorship of the Study of Heredity'. No word in single use quite gives this meaning. Such a word is badly wanted, and [this might be the time to introduce it. In this case I suggest - all crossed through] if it were desirable to coin one 'Genetics' might be the expression...

An image of the letter can be viewed in the online exhibition on the University website. Amongst the online exhibits we can also view some of Charles Darwin's workings towards his theory of evolution. Additionally, Dr Alison Pearn, Associate Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, contributes an introductory video:

By 1906, Bateson had settled on his chosen term, and in his Address to the Third Conference on Hybridisation, stated:

"I suggest ... the term Genetics, which sufficiently indicates that our labours are devoted to the elucidation of the phenomena of heredity and variation."

The Professorship was indeed established in 1912 but the idea of using the name Quick, or even linking the post to Darwin, was abandoned. After a donation from a benefactor, the title became 'The Balfour Professorship of Genetics'. Reginald Punnett was appointed the first Balfour Professor. In the [physical] exhibition we can see plaster models of chickens from Punnett's experiments in poultry breeding.

The exhibition runs until 30 September, in the Milstein Room at the University Library. Open from 09:00 - 05:00 and free to all.

>> More on the history of the Department of Genetics

A 5 Aug 2016