Richard Goldschmidt bigraphy, stories - German-American biologist

Richard Goldschmidt : biography

April 12, 1878 - April 24, 1958

Richard Benedict Goldschmidt (April 12, 1878 – April 24, 1958) was a German-born American geneticist. He is considered the first to integrate genetics, development, and evolution. He pioneered understanding of reaction norms, genetic assimilation, dynamical genetics, sex determination, and heterochrony.Dietrich, Michael R. (2003). Nature Reviews Genetics 4 (Jan.): 68-74. Controversially, Goldschmidt advanced a model of macroevolution through macromutations that is popularly known as the "Hopeful Monster" hypothesis.Gould, S. J. (1977). Natural History 86 (June/July): 24, 30.

Goldschmidt also described the nervous system of the nematode, a piece of work that later influenced Sydney Brenner to study the wiring diagram of Caenorhabditis elegansRodney Cotterill Enchanted Looms: Conscious Networks in Brains and Computers 2000, p. 185 an achievement that later won Brenner and his colleagues the Nobel Prize in 2002.


In 1903 Goldschmidt began working as an assistant to Richard Hertwig at the University of Munich, where he continued his work on nematodes and their histology, including studies of the nervous system development of Ascaris and the anatomy of Amphioxus. He founded the histology journal Archiv für Zellforschung while working in Hertwig's laboratory. Under Hertwig's influence, he also began to take an interest in chromosome behavior and the new field of genetics.

In 1909 Goldschmidt became professor at the University of Munich and, inspired by Wilhelm Johannsen's genetics treatise Elemente der exakten Erblichkeitslehre, began to study sex determination and other aspects of the genetics of the gypsy moth. His studies of the gypsy moth, which culminated in his 1934 monograph Lymantria, became the basis for his theory of sex determination, which he developed from 1911 until 1931. Goldschmidt left Munich in 1914 for the position as head of the genetics section of the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology.Stern, Curt (1969). Perspect Biol Med. 12(2): 179-203.

During a field trip to Japan in 1914 he was not able to return to Germany due to the outbreak of the First World War and got stranded in the United States. He ended up in an internment camp for "dangerous Germans". After his release in 1918 he returned to Germany in 1919. Because he was Jewish he had to leave Germany in 1935 and emigrated to the United States, where he became professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Selected bibliography

  • Goldschmidt, R. (1923). The Mechanism and Physiology of Sex Determination, Methuen & Co., London. (Translated by William Dakin.)
  • Goldschmidt, R. (1931). Die sexuellen Zwischenstufen, Springer, Berlin.
  • Goldschmitdt,R. (1940). The Material Basis of Evolution, New Haven CT: Yale Univ.Press. ISBN 0-300-02823-7
  • Goldschmidt, R. (1960) In and Out of the Ivory Tower, Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle.


Goldschmidt was the first scientist to use the term "hopeful monster". Goldschmidt thought that small gradual changes could not bridge the hypothetical divide between microevolution and macroevolution. In his book The Material Basis of Evolution (1940) he wrote "the change from species to species is not a change involving more and more additional atomistic changes, but a complete change of the primary pattern or reaction system into a new one, which afterwards may again produce intraspecific variation by micromutation." Goldschmidt believed the large changes in evolution were caused by macromutations (large mutations). His ideas about macromutations became known as the hopeful monster hypothesis which is considered a type of saltational evolution.Verne Grant The origin of adaptations 1963

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