Biological Theory

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 188–197 | Cite as

Waddington’s Legacy to Developmental and Theoretical Biology

  • Jonathan B. L. Bard


Conrad Hal Waddington (1905–1975) was a British developmental biologist who mainly worked in Cambridge and Edinburgh, but spent the late 1930s with Morgan in California learning about Drosophila. He was the first person to realize that development depended on the then unknown activities of genes, and he needed an appropriate model organism. His major experimental contributions were to show how mutation analysis could be used to investigate developmental mechanisms in Drosophila, and to explore how developmental mutation could drive evolution, his other deep interest. Waddington was, however, predominantly a thinker, and set out to provide a coherent framework for understanding the genetic bases of embryogenesis and evolution, developing his ideas in many books. Perhaps his best-known concept is the epigenetic landscape: here a ball rolls down a complex valley, making path choices. The rolling ball represents a cell’s development over time, while the topography represents the changing regulatory environment that controls these choices. In its later forms, the role of each feature in the landscape was controlled by the effects of sets of interacting genes, an idea underpinning contemporary approaches to systems biology. Waddington was the first developmental geneticist and probably the most important developmental biologist of the pre-molecular age.


developmental genetics epigenetic landscape epigenetics evolution genetic assimilation induction crisis systems biology theoretical biology Waddington 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Crick F (1988) What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  2. Gilbert SF (1991) Induction and the origin of developmental genetics. In: A Conceptual History of Modern Embryology (Gilbert SF, ed), 181–206. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gilbert SF (1997) Salome Gluecksohn Waelsch. In: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Hyman PE, Moore DD, eds), 1445–1446. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Gilbert SF (2003) Developmental Biology, 7th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.Google Scholar
  5. Goodwin BC (1963) Temporal Organization in Cells. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  6. Gould SJ (1977) Ontogeny and Phylogeny. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Hadorn E (1961) Developmental Genetics and Lethal Factors. London: Methuen (Mittwoch U, trans.), German original 1955, Thieme Verlag, Stuttgart.Google Scholar
  8. Holtfreter J (1951) Some aspects of embryonic induction. Growth 15(Suppl): 117–152.Google Scholar
  9. Laubichler MD, Rheinberger H-J (2004) Alfred Kuhn (1885–1968) and developmental evolution. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular and Developmental Evolution) 302B: 103–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Robertson A (1977) Conrad Hal Waddington. 8 November 1905–26 September 1975. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 23: 575–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Siegal ML, Bergman A (2002) Waddington’s canalization revisited: Developmental stability and evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 99: 10528–10532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Slack JMW (2002) C. H. Waddington: The last Renaissance biologist. Nature Reviews Genetics 3: 889–895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Stern CD (2000) Conrad H. Waddington’s contribution to avian and mammalian development, 1930–1940. International Journal of Developmental Biology 44: 15–23.Google Scholar
  14. Turing AM (1952) The chemical basis of morphogenesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 237: 37–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Van Speybroeck L (2002) From epigenesis to epigenetics. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 981: 61–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Waddington CH (1932) Experiments on the development of chick and duck embryos cultivated in vitro. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B 221: 179–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Waddington CH (1939) Introduction to Modern Genetics. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  18. Waddington CH (1940a) Organisers and Genes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Waddington CH (1940b) The genetic control of wing development in Drosophila. Journal of Genetics 25: 75–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Waddington CH (1941) Evolution of developmental systems. Nature 147: 108–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Waddington CH (1956) Principles of Development. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  22. Waddington CH (1957) The Strategy ofthe Genes. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  23. Waddington CH (1961) Genetic assimilation. Advances in Genetics 10: 257–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Waddington CH (1962) New Patterns in Genetics and Development. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Waddington CH, ed (1968–1972) Towards a Theoretical Biology, 4 vols. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Waddington CH (1969) Behind Appearance: A Study of the Relations Between Painting and the Natural Sciences in this Century. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Waddington CH (1975) The Evolution of an Evolutionist. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Waddington CH, Cowe RJ (1969) Computer simulation of a molluscan pigmentation pattern. Journal of Theoretical Biology 25: 219–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Waddington CH, Needham J, Brachet J (1936) The activation of an evocator. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 120: 173–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wake MH (2008) Organisms and organization. Theoretical Biology 3: 213–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wehmeier E (1934) Versuche zur Analyse der Induktionmittel bei der Medullar-Platteninduktion von Urodelen. Roux’ Archiv 152: 384–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Whitehead AN (1929) Process and Reality. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wilkins A (2002) The Evolution of Genetic Pathways. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.Google Scholar
  34. Wilkins AS (2008) Waddington’s unfinished critique of neo-Darwinian genetics: Then and now. Theoretical Biology 3: 224–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Winther RG (2006) Parts and theories in compositional biology. Biology and Philosophy 21: 471–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wolpert L (1969) Positional information and spatial pattern of cellular differentiation. Journal of Theoretical Biology 25: 1–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Weatherall Institute of Molecular MedicineJohn Radcliffe HospitalOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations