Reginald Crundal Punnett - Geneticist (1875-1967)

Reginald Crundal Punnett - Geneticist (1875-1967)
Born in England on June 20, 1875, Reginald Crundal Punnett became fascinated with a series of books entitled Naturalist's Library while still a young boy. He became fascinated with the subject and eventually entered Cambridge University as a medical student.

After graduating with a degree in zoology in 1898, Punnett stayed at Cambridge as a researcher. His initial work was with nemertime worms, also known as "ribbon worms." His work in this area led to the naming to two marine worm species after him - Cerbratulus punnetti amd Punnettia splendia.

During his time at Cambridge, Punnett became interested in the 'experimental process,' and wrote about it to fellow scientist William Bateson who was conducting Mendelian experiments on both plans and animals. Their scientific collaboration started with the discover of gene linkage in sweet peas, and eventually led to the establishment of the field now known as genetics at Cambridge.

Punnett is responsible for developing the famed "Punnet Square," which every beginning biology student is shown and taught. This simple square chart shows the number and variety of genetic combinations for a particular trait.

A simple example of a Punnett Square is shown below. This chart reflects the possible genetic outcomes if a brown-eyed father and mother, both with recessive genes for blue eyes, were to breed. Both parents are assumed to have an eye color of 'Bb', which reflects a dominant gene for brown eyes (B) and a recessive gene for blue eyes (b).

As you can see, the chart shows that a child of these parents will have a one in four chance of having brown eyes with two dominant genes for that trait (BB), a two in four chance of having brown eyes with one dominant and one recessive gene (Bb), and a one in four chance of inheriting two recessive genes (bb) resulting in blue eyes.

In 1912, Reginald Punnett became the first 'Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics' at Cambridge. During his years of research there he worked with the genetics of maize, sweet peas, and poultry and is responsible for the development of many different breeds of these organisms.

During World War I, Punnett developed a method using sex-linked plumage colors to assist in the separation of male and female chicks, as female chickens were more useful for eating and egg-laying. This technique greatly improved the efficiency of the poultry industry. Punnett later built on this technique to create the "Cambar" chicken, the first autosexing breed of poultry.

Reginald Punnett also studied the theory of butterfly mimicry, which was the idea that one species of butterfly might mimic another to obtain an adaptive advantage. He spent two years debating the point with Oxford entomologist Edward Bagnall Poulton, who was very firm in his believed only in natural selection. Punnett's work in this subject is documented in his 1915 work Mimicry in Butterflies.

Punnett was a founding member of the Genetical Society, and together with his colleague William Bateson founded the Journal of Genetics.

Even after his retirement from Cambridge in 1940, he continued to perform genetic experiments and research. In 1967, Reginald Punnett died at his home in Somerset England at the age of 92.


Mendelism, (1905)
Mimicry in Butterflies, (1915)
Heredity in Poultry, (1923)


1898: Awarded first class degree, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
1898: Awarded Walsingham Medal, University of Cambridge
1909: Appointed Superintendent of the Museum of Geology
1910-1912: Appointed Professor of Biology, University of Cambridge
1911-1926: Appointed Joint Editor, Journal of Genetics
1912-1940: Appointed Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics, University of Cambridge
1912: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
1926-1946: Appointed Editor, Journal of Genetics
1930: Elected President of the Genetical Society

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