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Professor Michael Majerus (1954 – 2009)

Leader of the evolutionary genetics group at Cambridge University and Patron of Humanists UK and “geneticist who defended Darwin in the battle against creationism”

Professor Michael Majerus, who died in January 2009, worked in the Cambridge University Department of Genetics, teaching evolutionary genetics and studying ladybirds, butterflies, moths and anything else with six legs, having become fascinated by insects at a very early age. In 2006 he was made Professor of Evolution at Cambridge and received the British Naturalist’s Association’s Sir Peter Scott Memorial Award for his contributions to British natural history.

On 12 February 2004 he gave the annual Darwin Day Lecture, in which he made a passionate and witty defence of the Peppered Moth as a model of evolution to a packed lecture hall (see here for reports of the lecture). Afterwards he accepted Humanists UK’s invitation to become a “Patron”, writing: “I am flattered to be invited to join the Association’s list of ‘Patrons of Humanism’, and I am very happy to accept. Our earth faces huge problems of overpopulation, diminishing resources, loss of habitats and species extinctions. More than ever before, biologists with an understanding of the complexities of ecological systems are needed. Darwinian evolution is fact. And as the great Russian/American geneticist, Theodore Dobzhansky famously said, ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’. Only through understanding of the complexities of natural systems do we have a hope of successfully addressing the monumental problems we face.”

Professor Majerus presented a resounding vindication of the peppered month story to a conference in Sweden in August 2007. He had found unequivocal evidence that birds were indeed responsible for the lower numbers of the black carbonaria forms of the moth, he told the meeting. See report in http://news.independent.co.uk/sci_tech/article2893896.ece  and his conference talk at http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/Research/Majerus/Swedentalk220807.pdf.

See also
Cambridge Science Festival interview with Dr Majerus
His obituary in The Independent (13/2/09)

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