MBL Friday Evening Lecture – "The Politics of Embryology: Johannes Holtfreter’s Flight from Nazi Germany," Michael Dietrich

Friday, June 14, 2019 - 8:00pm
Lillie Auditorium 7 MBL Street Woods Hole, MA 02543

Johannes Holtfreter was forced to leave Nazi Germany. Unlike other exiled biologists though, Holtfreter was not of Jewish ancestry. He was a rare political refugee. But, did his forced migration have an impact on his work in developmental biology? Contrary to some historians, Dietrich will argue that Holtfreter’s work on gastrulation and embryonic induction underwent a significant shift during the war years. Holtfreter's flight from Nazi Germany in 1939 and his subsequent experiences as a refugee scholar led him to argue against Hans Spemann's "organismic" approach to experimental embryology. In its place, Holtfreter offered a mechanistic understanding of fundamental embryonic processes such as gastrulation. For Holtfreter, the politics of embryology motivated his turn to more reductionistic and mechanistic explanations of developmental phenomena.

Michael R. Dietrich is a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. His primary interests are in the nature of scientific controversy. Through numerous scholarly articles and chapters, he has explored controversies in evolutionary genetics and molecular evolution, as well as controversial figures, such as the émigré geneticist Richard Goldschmidt. Professor Dietrich studied Philosophy and Biology at Virginia Tech and earned a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.


For more information, visit mbl.edu/FEL.