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James Van Gundia Neel (March 22, 1915 – February 1, 2000) was a geneticist who played a key role in the development of human genetics as a field of research in the United States. He made important contributions to the emergence of genetic epidemiology and pursued an understanding of the influence of environment on genes. In his early work, he studied sickle-cell disease and conducted research on the effects of radiation on survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. In 1956, Neel established the University of Michigan Department of Genetics, the first department of human genetics at a medical school in the United States.

Of particular interest to Neel was an understanding of the human genome in an evolutionary light, a concept he addressed in his fieldwork with cultural anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon among the Yanomamo in Brazil and Venezuela. His involvement in this fieldwork came under heavy scrutiny and criticism in the Darkness in El Dorado controversy, a scandal in anthropology that broke in 2000 involving numerous allegations of unethical research that threatened serious damage to Neel's reputation, despite the fact that he had died months earlier. Ultimately, however, scholars and researchers exonerated Neel of all of the serious accusations.



  • Lindee, Susan. 2001. "James Van Gundia Neel (1915-2000)." American Anthropologist. June, Vol. 103, No. 2, pp. 502-505 [1]


  • 1949 The Inheritance of Sickle Cell Anemia. Science 110: 64-66.
  • 1967 The Web of History and the Web of Life: Atomic Bombs, Inbreeding and Japanese Genes. Michigan Quarterly Review 6:202-209.
  • 1994 Physician to the Gene Pool: Genetic Lessons and Other Stories. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

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