Genetics and “Breeding as a Science”: Kihara Hitoshi and the Development of Genetics in Japan in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

  • Kaori IidaEmail author
Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 40)


Through the career of Kihara Hitoshi, a prominent plant geneticist in Japan, I show that genetics in Japan developed by maintaining a close connection with agriculture throughout the first half of the twentieth century. To exploit the socioeconomic context that valued applied science, Kihara gradually made the practical aspect of his projects more explicit and consequently created projects that were both basic and applied science. These projects not only allowed his group to expand successfully during wartime but also influenced the group’s scientific approach. To gain full understanding of an organism, investigators took a multidisciplinary approach beyond genetics, an approach similar to what the Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov described in advocating “breeding as a science.” Genetics, being placed within “breeding as a science,” was also affected, and Kihara began advocating physiological genetics, along the lines advanced by German geneticist Richard Goldschmidt. The story of Kihara’s career reveals how the national emphasis on agriculture had a significant impact on the disciplinary growth of genetics in Japan as well as on Japanese biologists’ approach to organisms and genes.


Richard Goldschmidt Japanese genetics Hitoshi Kihara Physiological genetics Plant genetics Nikolai Vavilov 



I would like to thank Savithri Preetha Nair, Takehiko Hashimoto, and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger for making helpful comments on the earlier draft, and Sharon Kingsland for suggestions and encouragement. This work was partly supported by JSPS KAKENHI (grant numbers 22800020, 24700922).


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Studies of BiosystemsThe Graduate University for Advanced Studies SOKENDAI HayamaHayamaJapan

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