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date: 17 August 2017

Population Studies and Genetics in Mexico during the Cold War

Summary and Keywords

Although their history can be traced further back to the study of heredity, variability, and evolution at the beginnings of the 20th century, studies on the genetic structure and ancestry of human populations became important at the end of World War II. From 1950 onward, the tools and practices of human genetics were being systematically used to attack global health problems with the support of international health organizations and the founding of local institutions that extended these practices, thus contributing to global knowledge. These developments were not an exception for Mexican physicians and human geneticists in the Cold War years. The first studies, which appeared in the 1940s, reflect the emerging model of human genetics in clinical practice and in scientific research in postwar Mexico. Studies on the distribution of blood groups as well as on variant forms of hemoglobin in indigenous populations paved the way for a long-term research programs on the characterization of Mexican indigenous populations. Research groups were formed at the Ministry of Health, the National Commission of Nuclear Energy, and the Mexican Social Security Institute in the 1960s. The key actors in this narrative were Rubén Lisker, Alfonso León de Garay, and Salvador Armendares. They consolidated solid communities in the fields of population and human genetics. For Lisker, the long-term effort to carry out research on indigenous populations in order to provide insights into the biological history of the human species, disease patterns, and biological relationships among populations was of particular interest. On his part, Alfonso León de Garay was interested in studying human and Drosophila populations, but in a completely different context, namely at the intersection of studies on nuclear energy and its effects on human populations as a result of World War II, with the life sciences, particularly genetics and radiobiology. In parallel, the study of chromosomes in a large scale using newly experimental techniques introduced in Mexico in the 1960 by Salvador Armendares allowed to tackle health problems regarding Down and Turner syndromes, and child malnutrition. The history of population studies and genetics during the Cold War in Mexico (1945–1970s) shows how the Mexican human geneticists of the mid-20th century mobilized scientific resources and laboratory practices in the context of international trends marked by WWII, and national priorities owing to the construction movement of postrevolutionary Mexican governments. These research programs were not limited to collaborations between research laboratories but were developed within the institutional and political framework marked at the international level by the postwar period and at the national level by the construction of the modern Mexican state.

Keywords: Salvador Armendares, Alfonso León de Garay, Rubén Lisker, Mario Salazar Mallén, karyotyping, medical genetics, population genetic surveys, indigenous populations, hemoglobin variation, G6PD deficiency


Although their history can be traced further back to the study of heredity, variability and evolution at the beginnings of the 20th century, studies on the genetic structure and ancestry of human populations using constitutive elements of the blood1 became important at the end of World War II (WWII), when the growing international interest in measuring the effects of radiation on natural populations led to the creation of various international and local institutions, different multicenter research projects, the development of new experimental practices, and—above all—the development of transnational scientific collaboration networks, which fostered the circulation of scientific practices, people, and objects.2

In the aftermath of WWII, extensive research and experimentation occurred in the life sciences as new clinical and laboratory practices based on the interaction of biology and medicine emerged. Government welfare policies to provide medical assistance and healthcare to the entire population also drove the phenomenon.3 New techniques and practices were developed within human heredity as a medical field, with the aim of understanding and characterizing differences among populations, and their relation to the presence of certain diseases. Historian of science Susan Lindee describes how “an explosion of new institutions, disciplines, databases, interventions, practices, techniques, and ideas turned technically driven human genetics from a medical backwater to an exotic and appealing medical research frontier.”4

From 1950 onward, the tools and practices of human genetics were being systematically used to attack global health problems with the support of international health organizations and the founding of local institutions that extended these practices, thus contributing to global knowledge. These developments were not an exception for Mexican physicians and human geneticists in the Cold War years.

The emergence of human genetics in postwar Mexico (1945–1970), reflects the transnational circulation of knowledge, people, and practices, and the role played by foreign and local institutions that enabled its consolidation in the country. The influence of the international trends and collaborative networks that were established after WWII were of great importance to Mexican geneticists working at the newly created institutions. It was precisely in the 1940s, during the presidency of General Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946) and lawyer and politician Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946–1952), that the most important Mexican medical, anthropological, and educational institutions were established, such as the Mexican Institute for Social Security, the National Cardiology Institute, the Children’s Hospital, the Nutrition Hospital (later the Nutritional Diseases Hospital), the National Oncology Institute, and the National Indigenista Institute, which responded to postrevolutionary governments’ agendas to place health, medical services, and education at the core of their political programs. It is precisely in those pivotal years that Mexico experienced a strong industrialization and modernization focused on the integration of the indigenous populations to the mestizo nation. This nationalistic project intersected with the individual projects of the Mexican physicians for extending medical services and education to the entire population.

Population studies was the first branch of human genetics developed in Mexico. The first studies on the distribution of genetic markers in the Mexican Mestizo and Indian population were done by Mexican physicians Mario Salazar Mallén and Adolfo Karl in the 1940s and 1950s. These were followed throughout the 1960s and 1970s by studies headed by Mexican physicians Rubén Lisker at the Nutritional Diseases Hospital (Hospital de Enfermedades de la Nutrición, HEN) and Alfonso León de Garay at the National Commission of Nuclear Energy (Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear, CNEN). Lisker focused on the population genetics of genetic markers, and de Garay concentrated on genetics and radiobiology. These research groups were linked to the old idea that humanity is structured into clearly defined populations. They assumed that Mexican populations were grouped into indigenous (Amerindian), mestizo, and marginally African, and that it was possible to find markers to differentiate them from each other. This assumption guided the practice of the different scientists whose main objectives were, consonant with what was happening in other parts of the world from the 1940s to the 1970s, the characterization of genetic variants in the Mexican territory both for medical purposes and for studies on the ancestry of the mestizo and Amerindian populations. In parallel, the population study of chromosomes using new experimental techniques was developed by Mexican physician Salvador Armendares and his group at the Mexican Institute for Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, IMSS). His emphasis was on the populations genetics of congenital illnesses and genetic disorders such as Down and Turner’s syndromes. These studies were the first in the 1960s in Mexico, and were aligned with international projects for the characterization of different genetic-variant conditions.

Population Studies and the First Characterization of Mexican Populations

The development of genetic studies on populations in Mexico intersects with the reconfiguration of human genetics which occurred as a result of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended WWII. The first studies which appear in the 1940s reflect the emerging model of human genetics in clinical practice and in scientific research in postwar Mexico.

The U.S.-educated Mexican physician Mario Salazar Mallén (1913–1976) is considered the first hematologist to carry out research on blood group distribution and a pioneer of human population genetics in Mexico. Working at the General Hospital of the Ministry of Health and Medical Attention and later at the National Cardiology Institute, he founded the first Mexican Allergy Service upon his return from New York University School of Medicine in 1938. Aware of New York physician and blood expert Alexander Wiener’s work on the Rhesus (Rh) factor, Salazar Mallén conducted studies on the blood differences in Mexican indigenous populations.5

Years later, influenced by the work of Wiener, he performed studies using agglutinogen as a marker in seven indigenous populations and one mixed-race population in the Federal District for the description of blood groups.6 The result of these studies was similar to other investigations on Amerindian groups, which could explain the low frequency of the blood disorder known as hemolytic anemia in newborns due to Rh system incompatibility between the mother and the fetus. These surveys were made possible due to Salazar Mallén’s collaborations with the National Indigenous Institute (Instituto Nacional Indigenista, INI) which provided the infrastructure for taking the blood samples and managing the indigenous populations.7

To continue his research projects in an international setting, Salazar Mallén traveled in 1951 to the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom thanks to a grant from the British Council. His objective was to visit Robert Russell Race, who by this time was a renowned human blood expert who had published Blood Groups in Man in 1950 with his renowned serologist wife, Ruth Ann Sanger. This authoritative book was used as a mandatory reference for safe blood transfusions. Years later, and as a consequence of his stay in the United Kingdom, Salazar Mallén started a project to measure the variability of the Diego blood factor in Mexican indigenous populations.8 Discovered in the blood of a Venezuelan mother in 1954, the Diego factor was related to the premature destruction of the red blood cells or hemolytic disease in newborns. Years later it was confirmed that this factor was common in indigenous peoples of the Americas and East Asia, so its use as a blood marker to characterize indigenous populations was generalized. Salazar Mallén´s study corroborated previous investigations which recognized the Diego factor’s presence in indigenous peoples of the Americas and East Asia but not in other indigenous populations. This survey was of great importance, not only because this kind of study had never been done in Mexico, but because the Diego factor had become an important genetic marker with evolutionary, anthropological, and clinical implications since the 1950s.9

One of the first works to use paper electrophoresis, a method developed in the 1950s for separating molecules, was that of Adolfo Karl at the National School of Biological Sciences (Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biológicas) of the National Polytechnic Institute (Instituto Politécnico Nacional) for studying the distribution of variant forms or abnormal hemoglobins—often inherited—that may cause blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia (a disease associated with a hemoglobin variant). The study attempted to correlate abnormal hemoglobins with the presence of hemolytic anemia, based on works including those of A. H. Banton, a human geneticist who was researching the heritability of thalassemia, and those of American biochemist Harvey Itano on hemoglobin structure and sickle cell hemoglobin. In 1957, Karl published the first study on a group of Mazatecs in the river basin of Papaloapan. He analyzed 123 samples of indigenous clotted blood. The samples selected were from people who were determined to have no close family relationship. Despite Karl’s high expectations of finding hemoglobin variants with the electrophoresis technique, his results demonstrated the prevalence of hemoglobin type A, without the presence of abnormal fetal hemoglobin.10 Despite the succinctness of Karl’s works and the importance of Salazar Mallén’s works, they didn’t have the impact that those of Salazar Mallén’s student Rubén Lisker or those of Alfonso León de Garay would.

Indigenous Populations and Medical Genetics in the Work of Rubén Lisker in the 1960s

The U.S.-born Mexican physician Rubén Lisker Yourkowitzy (1931–2015) established one of the largest genetic research programs to focus on indigenous peoples during the 1960s and 1970s. After graduating from the School of Medicine at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM), he decided to go to the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, from 1954 to 1957 as a medical resident specializing in hemotology with Viennese physician Karl Singer, a specialist in human hemoglobin. In those years, he met Arno G. Motulsky, a German immigrant physician who had been a pupil of Singer’s a few years before and is better known as the father of pharmacogenetics.11 Their collaboration and friendship lasted many years.12 Motulsky moved to Seattle in 1953 and set up a medical genetics division in the Department of Medicine at Washington University that began operations in 1957 and specialized in G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency. The study of this genetic disorder was of the greatest importance since it represented the most common enzymatic deficiency in the world, characterized by the premature breakdown of the red blood cells or erythrocytes (called hemolysis), causing anemia or the disease known as favism (after the fava bean).13 These studies strongly influenced Lisker’s later projects.

Lisker returned to Mexico to work for several years at HEN In 1965 he left for the Medical Genetics Division of the University of Washington in Seattle to work with Motulsky. Upon his return to Mexico in 1967, he founded the Genetics Department of the HEN, becoming its first director and inaugurating one of the newest programs in the study of indigenous Mexican populations.14

For Lisker, the study of human populations in Mexico had not only anthropological importance but also a clear medical application: the design of medical policies specific to those populations experiencing higher rates of anemia and malaria. This was a clear intersection of the development of post-WWII biomedicine and the political project of postrevolutionary Mexico.15

In Mexico in the 1950s, information on population structure came from medical data on errors of metabolism and other diseases, or from anthropological data based on phenotypical characteristics. For Lisker, who was influenced by Motulsky’s works, studies on molecular markers in the blood such as G6PD deficiency provided information on mestizo and indigenous groups regarding hemolytic anemia, as Carson and colleagues had established in 1956.16

These ideas led Lisker to use for the first time in Mexico the linguistic classification of former Boas student Morris Swadesh, an American cultural anthropologist working at the UNAM at the time, under the assumption that linguistic similarities among populations could be correlated with genetic similarities, as hemoglobin variants had well-defined geographical and ethnic distributions. For Lisker, the data obtained could be used for medical purposes and also for testing hypotheses about the historical interactions between different populations. His main studies were on the G6DP deficiency and on human serum albumin, the most abundant protein in blood plasma.

In an extensive survey of the Mixtec linguistic area, which comprises the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero in southern Mexico, Lisker found a close relationship between the presence of G6PD deficiency and malaria. Thanks to the National Campaign for Eradication of Paludism, the Ministry of Health decided to study the area for G6PD deficiency as a preliminary step prior to implementing general treatment with primaquine. In a population of 1,931 adult men, Lisker used hemoglobin S (HbS) and G6PD as genetic markers. After the genetic analysis, Lisker concluded that, despite the area having had a uniform incidence of malaria in the recent past, there were marked differences in the frequency of both characteristics in neighboring cities. Years later, Lisker and Motulsky described a new variant called “G6PD Mexico,” which was the first to be reported among Amerindian populations and which does not appear to have been introduced from other populations.17 Like Salazar Mallén, Lisker asked for the collaboration of the INI and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, ILV), who had the infrastructure to take the blood samples; manage the indigenous populations; and link urban and rural settings, as well as linguistic and cultural approaches to the study of human biological diversity. In this way, Lisker´s fieldwork techniques combined social, cultural, and historical knowledge of the research populations.18

In the decades that followed, Lisker and his group identified around one hundred variants of albumin in the blood by using starch gel electrophoresis, which allowed finer molecular separation.19 In 1967, they described the “albumin Mexico” in collaboration with Baruch Blumberg and Lissa Melartin from the Cancer Research Institute of Philadelphia.20 A year before, Blumberg and Melartin had described the “albumin Naskapi” as part of their long research agenda on the genetic characterization of human populations using serum albumin as a genetic marker. This new variant was in high frequency in the Naskapi Indians of Quebec, and in a lower one in some other North American Indians.21 Lisker’s albumin Mexico was only present in the indigenous populations of Oaxaca and in the mestizo populations of Mexico City. Lisker recognized that the albumin Mexico, however rare, might not be exclusive of Mexican populations and that more research would be needed. Lisker’s collaboration with this group allowed him to publish in the authoritative journal Nature, giving his work international circulation and wide recognition.

For Lisker and his collaborators, the long-term effort to carry out research on indigenous populations in order to provide insights into the biological history of the human species, disease patterns, and biological relationships among populations was of particular interest. When put into the Cold War international context, Linker’s studies added to global knowledge on genetic markers’ geographical distribution.

Population Studies and Genetics in the Genetics and Radiobiology Program

While Lisker was conducting his studies, another research group led by the Mexican physician Alfonso León de Garay (1920–2002) was interested in studying variants of the same genetic markers in human populations, but in a completely different context, namely at the intersection of studies on nuclear energy and its effects on human populations as a result of WWII with life sciences, particularly genetics and radiobiology (the study of the effects and applications of radiation on living beings). A graduate of the School of Medicine of the University of Puebla in Mexico, de Garay left for the United Kingdom in 1957 to perform population genetics studies with the renowned geneticist Lionel S. Penrose, who was then the director of the Galton Laboratory at University College in London. Thanks to a scholarship from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), de Garay could study for two years, at the same time as he was unofficially admitted to the nuclear establishments of Harvard University.

In the aftermath of WWII, under the Atoms for Peace initiative, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested the creation of an international organization to regulate the process for creation and use of atomic energy.22 As a result of this initiative, the IAEA was inaugurated in Vienna in 1957. The member countries of the United Nations were invited to participate by creating their own national institutions, as was the case for the CNEN that had been created concurrently with the formalization of the IAEA.23 As de Garay was in the United Kingdom, he accompanied the British delegation to the general assembly of the IAEA, where he met the Mexican delegation. This consisted of Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated physicist Manuel Sandoval Vallarta, Harvard-educated engineer Nabor Carrillo, and Harvard-educated physicist Carlos Graef, who urged him to go back to Mexico and found a research program on the effects of radiation on natural populations.24 Thus framed by the international postwar agenda, the physicists promoting the Mexican nuclear program shared the same interests in genetics and radiobiology.

The planning phase of the Genetics and Radiobiology Program (Programa de Genética y Radiobiología, PGR) started in 1957, and was created in 1960 upon de Garay’s return from the United Kingdom as part of the CNEN in Mexico City. The PGR was established in order to “enhance public health through physical and mental improvement and sickness prevention, by investigation of the factors that intervene, favourably or unfavourably, in the biological inheritance of a population.”25

The PGR consisted of six sections or laboratories, of which the most important was the Drosophila lab focused on conventional genetics experimentation, as well as the measurement of mutation rates, including those in irradiated stocks. In the 1960s, research evolved in several directions with the main goal being that genetic and radiobiology research at the CNEN should achieve competitiveness on a worldwide scale.26

Population genetics was from the start a dominant research subject of the PGR. This was due largely to three developments. With the support of the IAEA, the program received the first visit of IAEA expert Professor Hans Kalmus in 1962; collaborated on a research project with American geneticists at the University of Chicago; and participated in a research project which emerged in the 1970s from discussions with population geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, whom de Garay had invited to Mexico in 1973.

De Garay and Kalmus had met at the Galton Laboratory in 1957, and they became colleagues and good friends. When de Garay founded the PGR, he asked for Kalmus’s advice and supervision. When Kalmus first visited Mexico, he and de Garay made several surveys of Chiapas and Oaxaca to collect data on natural populations of Drosophila, and on indigenous populations using genetic markers in Tzeltal and Tzotzil groups in Chiapas, Mixtec groups in Oaxaca, Lacandon populations in Chiapas, and the Otomí group in Hidalgo. The results of these studies showed that in some communities, the frequencies of certain genetic characteristics increased by prolonged isolation in a small geographical area. Based on these, de Garay wrote: “The application of principles established by population genetics on human groups indicates some paths to follow to ensure the future health and wellbeing of human communities . . . Our country’s indigenous groups, particularly those which have been isolated geographically for several generations provide material of incalculable value for population genetics and anthropological genetics.”27 Finger and palm prints were also taken, and tests were performed for phenylthiocarbamide tasting, enzyme deficiencies in the school-age population, color blindness, and the chemical composition of earwax.28 In order to obtain blood samples to analyze later in the laboratory, de Garay—like Lisker—asked for the intervention of the INI and the ILV.29

Studies on serology and the distribution of blood groups were conducted in the 1960s with the aim of measuring intraspecies variability in human populations, which was made possible due to the introduction of new techniques such as gel electrophoresis and paper chromatography. These techniques were quickly incorporated for tracking immunological reactions thanks mainly to British human geneticist Harry Harris, whom de Garay had met in England and who was working on human isozymes at the Galton Laboratory at the time. His work on the patterns of human genetic diversity in health and disease paved the way for many current practices such as the identification of individuals by DNA fingerprinting and the prenatal diagnosis of genetic disorders.

Influenced by the knowledge and techniques he had learned during his years in the United Kingdom, de Garay began to sample and examine indigenous Mexican populations in order to evaluate the presence of certain characteristics of a genetic origin, although his association with the Chicago group was essential to consolidating these studies.

Of particular interest is the study on blood groups carried out by de Garay, along with doctors James Bowman, Paul Carson,30 and Henry Frischer from the Departments of Medicine and Pathology at the University of Chicago, in which a comparative analysis was made of the presence of G6PD in the human erythrocytes of African American populations in the United States and Lacandon populations from Chiapas in Mexico.

The study consisted of analyzing the blood from donors in the University of Chicago hospital system and healthy volunteers from the Joliet State Prison in Illinois, as well as nearly 150 Lacandon Indians from Chiapas who lived in small, separate populations. Using the gel electrophoresis technique to detect genetic variants or alleles for evaluating the variability of the populations, the group found that these were highly homogeneous for some genetic variants. They concluded that the probability of finding individuals who have two versions of the same allele will be greater in the highly inbred Lacandon populations than in random pairing investigated in the United States.31 These results were very important contributions to global studies on human populations. Variants of this enzyme had already been found in “Caucasians of European origin and of Negroes of the United States (. . .). A similar variant was the found in a Turkish family (. . .). Later, during the course of the United States survey, this new variant was also found in a Caucasian male of European origin”32 It is worth noting that in those years a great amount of data was being published in international journals, thus fostering the circulation of knowledge. Like Blumberg’s and Lisker’s findings, de Garay’s work was published in Nature, giving his group international positioning.

Population genetics studies on natural populations were being conducted in other laboratories of the world, and some of the main lines of research were being performed at the PGR. But these studies became relevant when a long-term project on Drosophila was started following Dobzhansky’s fourth visit to Mexico in 1973.33 Following Kalmus’s advice, one of the main objectives of the PGR since its inception was the training of scientists. Thanks to a scholarship from the IAEA, young drosophilist Victor Salceda went in 1965 to work for two years in Dobzhansky’s laboratory at Rockefeller University in New York, where he became specialized in population genetics. Upon his return to Mexico in 1968, and following Dobzhansky’s suggestion, Salceda proposed that de Garay continue Dobzhansky’s collections of D. pseudoobscura in Mexico. The project “Population Genetics of Mexican Drosophila” was initiated in 1974 with the financial support of the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, CONACyT).34 The project sought to understand the ecological basis of genetic variation in natural populations of D. pseudoobscura, and the relationships between the amount of genetic variation present in a population and its rate of evolution, a project that yielded a score of research articles between 1974 and 1995 which were published in renowned journals, thus fostering the circulation of knowledge.35

Karyotyping Mexico

Although the history of the study of chromosomes goes back to the 19th century, when Karl von Naegeli observed them for the first time in 1842, the similarities between the behavior of genes and that of chromosomes during meiosis were indicated independently by Walter S. Sutton in 1902 and Theodor Boveri in 1904. These studies allowed cytological observations to be coordinated with genetics research, leading to extensive research programs which sought to localize the hereditary elements in the cell’s nucleus. Research into human chromosomes began in earnest after the 1930s, when new dyeing techniques were discovered which allowed chromosomes to be distinguished more clearly. In this way, the study of the size and shape of chromosomes, or karyotyping, as an experimental method of analysis with clinical repercussions enabled the development of cytogenetics as a field of human genetics, specifically medical genetics, at a clear intersection of the postwar international agenda.36 The study of chromosomes or karyotyping facilitated the introduction of heredity and genetics to clinical practice.

In Mexico, two events were crucial to the development of cytogenetics in clinical practice. One was the creation of the Department of Scientific Research (Departamento de Investigación Científica, DIC) at the IMSS, where the first Human Genetics Research Unit (Unidad de Investigación en Genética Humana, UIGH) would be established. The other was British human geneticist Alan C. Stevenson’s visit to Mexico.

The IMSS was founded in 1943 to fulfil one of the postrevolutionary government’s promises, which was to offer hospitals with good quality medical services to the workers. Medical research was not one of the objectives behind creation of the IMSS. However, in the 1960s, there was growing interest from Mexican physicians in extending the services the institute provided for research. In this way, research groups began to appear in the general, gynecology and obstetrics, and oncology hospitals. It was in 1966 that the DIC of the IMSS was established, funded by a million-dollar donation from the Ford Foundation. The DIC’s most important supporter was endocrinologist Jorge Martínez Manatou, renowned for his contributions to human reproductive biology through the invention of the mini-pill.37 For Martínez Manatou, research was essential to solving population growth and child malnutrition, two of the main concerns of postrevolutionary governments. This was the place and the moment where the work of Armendares and his collaborators stood out.

Spanish-born Mexican physician Salvador Armendares (1925–2010) graduated from the School of Medicine at the UNAM, and began to practice at the Medical Unit of the IMSS’s National Medical Centre (Centro Médico Nacional, CMN) in 1952. Years later, he specialized in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital (Hospital Infantil, HI) and worked as a pediatrician and researcher at both CMN Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital #2, and at the CMN Pediatric Hospital (Hospital de Pediatría, CMN HP). It was in here that Armendares became acquainted with Alan C. Stevenson. He then undertook graduate studies in human genetics from 1964 to 1965 at the British Medical Research Council in Oxford under Stevenson’s supervision.38

In the post-WWII era, with international concern about the effects of radiation on human populations, the WHO sponsored a multicenter study to understand the type and frequency of congenital malformations in stillborn and live-born infants. The planning stage of this prospective study was the responsibility of American human geneticist James V. Neel, American population geneticist and epidemiologist William J. Schull, American human geneticist J. A. Fraser, and Stevenson, who at the time was working at the Population Genetics Research Unit of the Medical Research Council of Great Britain in Oxford. They agreed that Stevenson would carry out the study.39

Mexico was one of the centers chosen for the WHO survey.40 The gathering of information began in 1961 and ended in 1964. Among the malformations recorded were harelip and cleft palate, malformations of the gut and urogenital tract, and Down syndrome. The participating hospitals were IMSS Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital #1 Gabriel Mancera, the director of which was the obstetrician and gynecologist Luis Castelazo Ayala (a physician well known to Armendares), and IMSS Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital #2, the director of which was the neonatologist Juan Urrusti Sainz, a university contemporary and friend of Armendares.41

Upon Armendares’s return from Oxford, he founded the UIGH at the CMN HP as part of the DIC, thanks to the support of Martínez Manatou, the head of the department. This was the first medical genetics unit created in Mexico, and Armendares held the initial directorship from 1966 to 1976. Having established the cytogenetics laboratory, in 1969 Armendares started a medical genetics graduate program within the CMN HP, endorsed at the time by the graduate division of the UNAM School of Medicine. The first generation of students on the course at the CMN HP included the U.S.-educated and Colombian-born Mexican physician Fabio Salamanca Gómez and the German-educated Mexican physician Leonor Buentello Malo, who soon joined the UIGH.

The three of them were the key players of the UIGH, where cytogenetics studies were performed on the children who were admitted to the hospital. The idea that genetic information could explain human diseases was reinforced and validated by the bureaucratic system at the IMSS, enabling the work of the UIGH to be performed and sustaining neonatal testing and cytogenetic analysis in close collaboration with medical personnel at the hospital.

Influenced by the research work he had undertaken at Oxford, and due to the need to provide health services for the general population in postrevolutionary Mexican health institutions, the genetic research agenda of Armendares’s group included the population genetics of congenital illnesses and particular disorders, such as child malnutrition as a cause of chromosomal alterations, Down syndrome, mental retardation, and Turner syndrome.42

Armendares and his group were key agents for the amalgamation and circulation of scientific knowledge and medical practices that took place during the establishment of human genetics in Mexico. This group attracted young cytogeneticists who came from other backgrounds and cooperated with them in establishing cytogenetic knowledge and practices as an area of medical expertise in clinical practice.


Scientific research and technological development in biomedicine increased remarkably during the years following WWII, particularly in human and population genetics. Understanding population dynamics after WWII therefore became essential, especially when nuclear technology and its possible mutagenic effects drew people’s attention to the history and diversity of human and natural populations. This led to the appearance of many research programs, as well as different methodologies and scientific practices of collaboration, which were supported and encouraged by international and national institutions. The results of these studies would allow people to both understand the history, ancestry, and diversity of geographically separate populations and apply this knowledge to the treatment of diseases in clinical practice. Mexico was not unaffected by this reconfiguration.

Population studies and genetics in post-WWII Mexico show the interplay between Mexican physicians-turned-geneticists and local and international institutions that fostered the circulation of ideas and practices beyond national borders.

The knowledge and diverse practices learned on the trips taken by Mexican researchers abroad and foreign researchers to Mexico enabled the development of projects, the standardization of techniques, and the publication of results in international journals in the period from the 1940s to the 1970s. This academic production placed Mexico as a leading country on the world stage.

These studies were aligned with other laboratories in other parts of the world using molecular tracers and more up-to-date electrophoresis techniques to measure the genetic variability of Mexican indigenous populations. Following the 1960s trend and technologies, they focused on enzymes and other blood components, such as the deficiency of D6PD and the presence of abnormal hemoglobins and albumins in Mexican indigenous populations, and on the population genetics of congenital illnesses and chromosomal disorders. The motivations of Mexican physicians-turned-geneticists in this narrative cannot be explained outside their national context or without reference to international and global concerns. As with the work of Salazar Mallén, Karl, and Lisker, that of de Garay and Armendares would not have been possible without the intricate fabric of international agencies in the post-WWII context (the IAEA, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. National Science Foundation, British Council, and WHO), and local institutions (the IMSS, DIC, CNEN, INI, ILV and CONACyT) in the context of postrevolutionary Mexico. In these institutions and in the collaborative networks established after WWII, a great deal of material resources were mobilized in order to transform and consolidate human and population genetics in the country.

The history of population studies and genetics during the Cold War in Mexico shows how the Mexican human geneticists of the mid-20th century mobilized scientific resources and laboratory practices in the context of international trends marked by WWII, and national priorities owing to the construction movement of postrevolutionary Mexican governments. It also shows the importance of Mexico’s role in the international reconfiguration of human genetics, and the internationalization and standardization of scientific practices.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature can basically be divided into two parts. The first has to do with recent science studies (science and technology studies, STS). The new historiographical perspective has dispensed with the bipolar center-periphery distinction in order to obtain connected narratives which show the relations between international or global and local contexts. This perspective allows scholars to understand how scientific knowledge is internationalized and standardized without resorting to the traditional narrative of universal knowledge. Various historians have emphasized that knowledge is mobilized in networks of collaboration and that its trajectories connect people, objects, and scientific practices in time and space. A global historian of science must therefore make the study of local science part of a larger tapestry. The field literature is very extensive, but the works of Sivasundaram, Safier, and others in the section “Focus” of the 2010 journal ISIS, “Global Histories of Science”; the 2016 British Journal for the History of Science Themes “Science of Giants: China and India in the Twentieth Century,” edited by Jahnavi Phalkey and Tom Lang; and Subrahmanyam’s work are good places to start. The recent volumes of Turchetti, Herran, and Boudia, and those of Simon and Herran, and Gavroglu and colleagues are also valuable. All these references address transnational science. It is worth reading The Brokered World, a collection of essays edited by Simon Schaffer, Lissa Roberts, Kapil Raj, and James Delburgo. This book discusses the forms of knowledge production and circulation in the development of global knowledge.

The second part is the literature on the history of human genetics, particularly from Mexico. There are many volumes which have explored this topic, but a few particularly illustrate what global progress it has made. The books of Harper and Comfort are compendia which respectively address the history of medical genetics, and the specific case of the United States. Other books which focus on Latin America include the work edited by Birn and Necochea on public health, and the book by Palmer and Cueto on the history of medicine and public health. In particular, the extensive work of Cueto on the eradication of malaria in Mexico, the role played by the Rockefeller Foundation in the development of public policies in Latin America, and the role played by the WHO in the transition from international policies to truly global ones are worth reading about.

Other scholarly efforts to tackle the study of human genetics, particularly after WWII, include the volume on human heredity edited by Gausemeier and his colleagues. This is a collection of sixteen manuscripts that narrate different aspects, moments, and countries in which human genetics was developed. The other compendium is the special issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, edited by Bangham and de Chadarevian, which contains some manuscripts from population genetics, the study of chromosomes, the role played by different institutions in consolidation of the field, and other topics that are worth reading, particularly the works of Vanderlei de Souza and Ricardo Ventura Santos on human population genetics in Brazil; Bangham on blood groups and collecting data; Lipphardt on geographical patterns of genes; Radin on epideomology and the role of the WHO; Santesmases on human karyotypes; and de Cadarevian on human heredity.

The history of human genetics in Mexico is a field little explored by historians and poorly represented in science studies. However, some works are beginning to appear which attempt to reconstruct the relationship of human genetics to the development of the modern Mexican state and the national and foreign institutions which arose as a result of WWII from a transnational perspective. Studies of postwar Mexican geneticists, particularly Salazar Mallén, Karl, Lisker, de Garay, and Armendares, are essential to understanding the development and consolidation of human and population genetics in postrevolutionary Mexico, and show the networks of collaboration which developed in the wake of WWII. Some recent works explore the relationship between human research projects (using genetic markers to differentiate the Indian and the mestizo populations), nationalism, and the construction of social identities. The collection of essays edited by López Beltrán in Genes and Mestizos turns around the idea that the Mexican Indian has traditionally been studied more than the mestizo. From the postrevolutionary period, the eyes of physicians and anthropologists pointed toward the study of the mestizo. This collective volume aims to provide a historical vision of this genetization perspective of the Mexican mestizo. In the case of comparative studies in Latin America, those by Peter Wade are highly recommended. Among the most conspicuous is the book Mestizo Genomics, a comparative study on the biological diversity of the Brazilian population, nation and difference in the genetic imagination of Colombia, and the Mexican mestizo. This book is worth reading for an overview on research that recently has included the exploration of the genetic biological diversity and nation building.

Primary Sources

There are very few works and documents on Mexican physicians Salazar Mallén and Karl, and these cannot be accessed online. The references given in the manuscript are the more important ones. Lisker’s works and documents are scattered throughout many places. Besides the journals provided in this manuscript, one place to start is the Historical Archives of the National Academy of Medicine, and the journal Gaceta Médica Mexicana, where most of the physicians used to publish; the national context of human heredity can be found there. The archives of the School of Medicine of the UNAM and of the HEN (now Salvador Zubirán National Medical Sciences and Nutrition Institute) can also be invaluable for that period. For the relation between population genetics and the malaria eradication campaign in Mexico, the National Archives in Washington and the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York are of fundamental interest; there is also a good amount of information at the Archivo General de la Nación (General Archive of the Nation, AGN) and at the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salud (Historical Archive of the Ministry of Health), both located in Mexico City.

For Armendares’s research, it is essential to look at the IMSS archives located at the CMN of the IMSS. Surveys on the Gaceta Médica Mexicana can be useful to place Armendares’s work within a national perspective. Armendares retired from the UIGH and left for the Anthropological Research Institute (Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, IIA) of the UNAM in the late 1980s; visiting its archives is recommended. One important source of information that should be essential reading, particularly for situating Stevenson’s survey on congenital malformations in stillborn and live-born infants, is the WHO archives in Switzerland.

All of the important information on de Garay and the PGR’s work and research can be found at the ININ Archives and the AGN. There are also some documents related to nuclear physics at the Sandoval Vallarta archive of the Metropolitan Autonomous University. For the relationship with physical anthropology, see the Alfonso Caso Archive at the IIA. For the relationship between de Garay and Dobzhansky, one place to start is in the files corresponding to the years 1966–1976 of Francisco J. Ayala’s personal archives at the University of California, Irvine. Many of the documents on radiobiology and radiation protection can be found at the IAEA archive in Vienna, Austria.

Further Reading

Bangham, Jenny, and de Chadarevian Soraya, eds. Special issue, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47 (2014).Find this resource:

Barahona, Ana. “Transnational Science and Collaborative Networks: The Case of Genetics and Radiobiology in Mexico, 1950–1970.” Dynamis 35 (2015): 333–358.Find this resource:

Barahona, Ana, and Francisco Ayala. “History of Genetics in México.” Nature Reviews/Genetics 6 (2005): 860–866.Find this resource:

Barahona, Ana, Susana Pinar, and Francisco Ayala. “Introduction and Institutionalization of Genetics in Mexico.” Journal of the History of Biology 38 (2005): 273–299.Find this resource:

Birn, Anne-Emanuelle, and Raúl Necochea López. “Footprints on the Future: Looking Forward to the History of Health and Medicine in Latin America in the Twenty-First Century.” Hispanic American Historical Review 91 (2011): 503–527.Find this resource:

Brown, Theodore M., Marcos Cueto, and Elizabeth Fee. “The World Health Organization and the Transition from ‘International’ to ‘Global’ Public Health.” American Journal of Public Health 96 (2006): 62–72.Find this resource:

Comfort, Nathaniel. The Science of Human Perfection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Cueto, Marcos. Cold War, Deadly Fevers: Malaria Eradication in Mexico 1955–1975. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Cueto, Marcos, and Steven Palmer. Medicine and Public Health in Latin America: A History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Gausemeier, Bern, Staffan Müller-Wille, and Edmund Ramsden, eds. Human Heredity in the Twentieth Century. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013.Find this resource:

Gavroglu, Kostas, et al. “Science and Technology in the European Periphery: Some Historiographical Reflections.” History of Science 46 (2008): 153–175.Find this resource:

Harper, Peter. A Short History of Medical Genetics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Levine, Louis, ed. Genetics of Natural Populations: The Continuing Importance of Theodosius Dobzhansky. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Lindee, Susan. Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

López Beltrán, Carlos, ed. Genes and Mestizos. Genómica y Raza en la Biomedicina Mexicana. México: Ficticia, 2011.Find this resource:

Phalkey, Jahnavi, and Tom Lang, eds. “Science of Giants: China and India in the Twentieth Century.” British Journal for the History of Science Themes 1 (2016).Find this resource:

Schaffer, Simon, Lissa Roberts, Kapil Raj, and James Delburgo, eds. The Brokered World. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2009.Find this resource:

Safier, Neil. “Global Knowledge on the Move: Itineraries, Amerindian Narratives, and Deep Histories of Science.” Isis 101 (2010): 133–145.Find this resource:

Simon, Joseph, and Néstor Herran. Beyond Borders: Fresh Perspectives in the History of Science. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.Find this resource:

Sivasundaram, Sujit. “Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions, and Theory.” Isis 101 (2010): 146–158.Find this resource:

Soto Laveaga, Gabriela. Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasantas, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia.” Modern Asian Studies 31 (1997): 735–762.Find this resource:

Swadesh, Maurice. Indian Linguistic Groups of Mexico. Mexico: Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1959.Find this resource:

Vélez Ocón, Carlos. Cincuenta años de energía nuclear en México 1945–1995. México: Programa Universitario de Energía, UNAM, 1997.Find this resource:

Wade, Peter, Carlos López Beltrán, and Ricardo Ventura Santos, eds. Mestizo Genomics: Race, Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.Find this resource:


(1.) Serological studies became very important at the beginning of the 20th century due to the enormous amount of blood transfusions during WWI. Since then, studies on blood groups, Rh factor, hemoglobins (a protein contained in the red blood cells that has iron that carries oxygen through the body), albumin (the most abundant protein in blood plasma), and other blood elements were developed in the intersection of blood diseases and human population studies. These were possible with the development of new techniques that made the separation and analysis of the blood components more accurate.

(2.) Simone Turchetti, Néstor Herrán, and Soraya Boudia, “Introduction: Have We Ever Been ‘Transnational’? Towards a History of Science across and beyond Borders,” BJHS 45 (2012): 320; Sujit Sivasundaram, “Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions, and Theory,” ISIS 101 (2010): 146–158; and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Connected Histories: Notes towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia,” Modern Asian Studies 31 (1997): 735–762. On circulation, see James A. Secord, “Knowledge in Transit,” Isis 95 (2004): 654–672; Neil Safier, “Global Knowledge on the Move: Itineraries, Amerindian Narratives, and Deep Histories of Science,” ISIS 101 (2010): 133–145; Robert E. Kohler, “Practice and Place in Twentieth-Century Field Biology: A Comment,” Journal of the History of Biology 45 (2012): 579–586; and María Jesús Santesmases and Christoph Gradmann, “Circulation of Antibiotics: An Introduction,” Dynamis 31 (2011): 293–302.

(3.) Soraya de Chadarevian, “Following Molecules: Hemoglobin between the Clinic and the Laboratory,” in Molecularizing Biology and Medicine: New Practices and Alliances 1910–1970, eds. Soraya de Chadarevian and Hamke Kaminga (Australia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 171–201; Angela Creager, “Nuclear Energy in the Service of Biomedicine: The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s Radioisotope Program, 1946–1950,” Journal of the History of Biology 39 (2006): 649–684.

(4.) Susan Lindee, “Genetic Disease in the 1960s: A Structural Revolution,” American Journal of the Medical Genetics 115–112 (2002): 75. See also Susan Lindee, Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

(5.) Mario Salazar Mallén and Raúl Hernández de la Portilla, “Existencia del aglutinógeno Rh en los hematíes de 250 individuos Mexicanos,” Revista de la Sociedad Mexicana de Historia Natural 5 (1944): 183–185. In those years, Wiener and a Mexican colleague J. Preciado Zepeda published a study on the individual blood differences in Mexican Indians. Alexander S. Wiener, J. Preciado Zepeda, E. B. Sonn, and H. R. Polivka, “Individual Blood Differences in Mexican Indians with Special Reference to HR Blood Types and HR Factors,” Journal of Experimental Medicine 81 (1945): 559–567. In the early 1940s, Wiener had worked in the classification of the Rh alleles that was incorporated in Arthur Mourant’s survey on the distribution of human blood groups. See Nathaniel Comfort, The Science of Human Perfection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).

(6.) All humans belong to one of the four blood groups: A, B, AB, and O. These are characterized by different combinations of two proteins: agglutinogen (present in the blood cells) and agglutinin (present in the blood serum). These two proteins act together as antigen-antibody. The agglutinogen stimulates the production of agglutinin that causes the clumping of cells. This is very important for the determination of the Rh factor and for safe blood transfusions.

(7.) Mario Salazar Mallén, “El aglutinógeno Lewis en la sangre de los mexicanos,” Boletín Instituto Médico Biológico 7 (1949): 25–30; and C. Arteaga, Mario Salazar Mallén, E. Ugalde, and A. Vélez-Orosco, “Blood Agglutinogens of Mexicans,” Annals of Eugenics 16 (1952): 351–355. See also Ana Barahona, Historia de la genética humana en México, 1870–1970 (México: UNAM, 2009).

(8.) Mario Salazar Mallén and Teresa Arias, “Inheritance of Diego Blood Group in Mexican Indians,” Science 130 (1959): 164–165.

(9.) Pedro C. Junqueira et al. “The Diego Blood Factor in Brazilian Indians,” Nature 177 (1956): 41–42; and Miguel Layrisse and Tulio Arends, “The Diego Blood Factor in Chinese and Japanese,” Nature 177 (1956): 1083–1084. For a history of the Diego blood groups, see Pedro C. Junqueira and Lilian Castilho, “The History of the Diego Blood Group,” Revista Brasileira de Hematologia e Hemoterapia 24 (2002): 15–23.

(10.) Adolfo Karl, “Estudio electroforético de la hemoglobina de los indígenas mazatecos de la cuenca del Papaloapan,” Ciencia 17 (1957): 85–86. See also Barahona, “Historia de la genética.”

(11.) Arno G. Motulsky, “Drug Reactions, Enzymes, and Biochemical Genetics,” JAMA 165 (1957): 835–837.

(12.) Lisker personal communication April 2008; see Barahona, “Historia de la genética.”

(13.) Like anemia and thalassemia, G6PD deficiency is a biochemical-genetic response to malaria and was discovered in the 1920s among workers on South American banana plantations run by the United Fruit Company. See Comfort, “The Science of Human.”

(14.) This department would become the Rubén Lisker Genetics Department in 2007, when he became professor emeritus of the Salvador Zubirán National Medical Sciences and Nutrition Institute (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y de la Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, INCMNSZ). Lisker personal communication April 2008; see Barahona, “Historia de la genética.”

(15.) Marcos Cueto, Cold War, Deadly Fevers: Malaria Eradication in Mexico 1955–1975 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

(16.) Paul E. Carson, P., C. L. Flanagan, C. E. Ickes, and A. S. Alvin, “Enzymatic Deficiency in Primaquine Sensitive Erythrocytes,” Science 124 (1956): 484.

(17.) Rubén Lisker, Carmen Linares, and Arno Motulsky, “Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Mexico: A New Variant with Enzyme Deficiency, Abnormal Mobility, and Absence of Haemolysis,” Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 79 (1972): 788–793.

(18.) Ana Barahona, “Historia de la genética”; and Ana Barahona, “Medical Genetics and the First Studies of the Genetics of Population in Mexico,” Genetics 204 (2016): 1–9.

(19.) Rubén Lisker, Alvar Loría, J. González-Llaven, S. Guttman, and G. Ruiz-Reyes, “Note préliminaire sur la fréquence des hemoglobines anormales et de la déficience en gluxose-6-phosphate déhydrogénase dans la population Mexicaine,” Revue Francaise d´Etudes Clinique et Biologique 1 (1962): 76–78; H. Rodríguez, E. Rodríguez, Alvar Loría, and Rubén Lisker, “Estudios sobre algunas características genéticas hematológicas de la población mexicana. I. Grupos sanguíneos en Tarascos, Nahuas y Mixtecos,” Reista de. Investigación Clínica 14 (1962): 319–328; H. Rodríguez, E. Rodríguez, Alvar Loría, and Rubén Lisker, “Studies on Several Genetic Hematological Traits of the Mexican Population. V. Distribution of Blood Groups Antigens in Nahuas, Yaquis, Tarahumaras, Tarascos and Mixtecos,” Human Biology 35 (1963): 350–360; Rubén Lisker, Alvar Loría, and S. Córdova, “Studies on Several Hematological Traits of the Mexican Population. VIII. Hemoglobin S, Glucose-6-Phospate Dehydrogenase Deficiency and Other Characteristics in a Malarial Region,” American Journal of Human Genetics 17 (1965): 179–187; and Rubén Lisker, Alvar Loría, S. Ibarra, and L. Sánchez-Medal, “Características genéticas hematológicas de la población Mexicana. VII. Estudio en la Costa Chica,” Salud Pública de México 7 (1965): 45–50.

(20.) Lissa Melartin, Baruch S. Blumberg, and Rubén Lisker, “Albumin Mexico: A New Variant of Serum Albumin,” Nature 215 (1967): 1288–1289.

(21.) See for example, Lissa Melartin and Baruch S. Blumberg, “Albumin Naskapi: A New Variant of Serum Albumin,” Science 153 (1966): 1664–1666; Lissa Melartin and Baruch S. Blumberg, “Autosomal Linkage between the Albumin and Gc Loci in Humans,” Science 158 (1967): 123–125; and Lissa Melartin, Baruch S. Blumberg, and J. R. Martin, “Albumin Polymorphism (Albumin Naskapi) in Eskimos and Navajos,” Nature 218 (1968): 787–789. It is worth noting that Blumberg won the Nobel Prize in 1976 due to his work on infectious diseases.

(22.) Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Atomic Power for Peace,” in Atoms for Peace: A Future after Fifty Years?, ed. Joseph F. Pilat (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2007), 239–246.

(23.) AC-ININ, s/c, folio 000008, Iniciativa de Ley que crea la Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear, October 25, 1955.

(24.) Alfonso León de Garay, personal communication, October 1998. For the history of the CNEN and the nuclear program in Mexico, see Luz Fernanda Azuela and José Luis Talancón, La historia de la energía nuclear en México, 1945–1995 (Mexico City: CEPE, IIS, IG and Plaza y Valdés, 1999); Raúl Domínguez Martínez, Historia de la Física Nuclear en México, 1933–1963 (México: UNAM/Centro de Estudios sobre la Universidad/Plaza y Valdés Editores, 2000). For the relation of the CNEN with the life sciences, see Barahona “Historia de la Genética.”

(25.) Alfonso León de Garay, Programa de Genética y Radiobiología. Informe de Labores 1960 (México: Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear, Archivo de Información, Biblioteca del ININ, 1960), 1.

(26.) The impact of the training programs and the scientific results in the field of radiobiology (the study of the effects and applications of radiation on living beings) were also very important and helped the PGR to position itself as a leading program of its type on the local and the global landscape. Alfonso León de Garay, for example, was part of the group of experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations that wrote the “Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation” for the years 1969, 1972 and 1977. Mexico’s contribution to these reports were the ones performed at the genetics laboratory of the PGR on human chromosomes treated with ionizing radiation in vitro. Other important scientific results are J. de Grouchy, Cristina Nava, and Maurice Lamy, “Analyse cromosomique de cellules cancéreuses et de cellules médullaires et sanguines irradiées In Vitro,” Annales de Génétique 6–1 (1963): 9–20; T. C. Hsu, and María Teresa Zenzes, “Chromosome Aberrations Induced by Incorporation of Tritiated Thymidine,” Cellular Radiation Biology Symposium on Fundamentals. Cancer Research 1965; Víctor Salceda, “Recessive Lethals in Second Chromosomes of D. melanogaster with Radiation Histories,” Genetics 57–3 (1967): 691–699; Rafael Villalobos-Pietrini and Alfredo Laguarda-Figueras, “Radioprotection of Vicia faba by Serotonin-Creatinine Sulfate Complex,” Radiation Protection 7 (1967): 369–373; Rodolfo Félix, and Rosario Rodríguez, “Effect of Actinomycin-D on the Number of Offspring Produced by D. melanogaster Females,” Drosophila Information Service 44 (1969): 85–87; Rodolfo Félix, Víctor Salceda, and Rafael Villalobos-Pietrini, “Induction of Recessive Lethals by X-rays in Sex Chromosomes during Successive Stages of Spermatogenesis in the Wild Type D. Melanogaster from Mexico City,” Drosophila Information Service 43 (1968): 87–89; and Judith Guzmán, Rodolfo Félix, and Jesús Ramírez, “Effects of Pre-Treatement with Serotonin-Creatinine Sulfate Complex on the Radiation-Induced Frequencies of X Chromosome Loss, Recessive Lethals and II-III Translocations in D. Melanogaster Males,” Drosophila Information Service 45 (1970): 129–131, to name a few. See also Ana Barahona and Francisco Ayala, “History of Genetics in México,” Nature Reviews/Genetics 6 (2005): 860–866.

(27.) Alfonso León de Garay, Programa de Genética y Radiobiología. Informe de Labores 1963 (México: Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear, Archivo de Información, Biblioteca del ININ, 1963), 12.

(28.) Hans Kalmus, Alfonso León de Garay, Ubaldo Rodarte, and Luis Cobo, “The Frequency of PTC Tasting, Hard Ear Wax, Color Blindness and Other Genetical Characters in Urban and Rural Mexican Populations,” Human Biology 36 (1964): 134; and V. Tiburcio, A. Romero, and Alfonso León de Garay, “Gene Frequencies and Racial Intermixture in a Mestizo Population from Mexico City,” Annals of Human Biology 5 (1978): 131–138.

(29.) There is correpondence between de Garay and INI director general Alfonso Caso in which it can be seen the relations established between various institutions to carry out these studies at the Alfonso Caso Archive, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, UNAM.

(30.) The first to correlate variants of G6PD with a clinical disorder, see note 16.

(31.) James E. Bowman, Paul E. Carson, Henri Frischer, and Alfonso León de Garay, “Genetics of Starch-Gel Electrophoretic Variants of Human 6-Phosphogluconic Dehydrogenase. Population and Family Studies in the United States and in Mexico,” Nature 5038 (1966): 811–813.

(32.) Bowman et al., “Genetics of Starch-Gel Electrophoretic Variants of Human 6-Phosphogluconic Dehydrogenase,” 811.

(33.) Dobzhansky traveled to Mexico and collected Drosophila flies in 1935, 1936, and 1938, as part of a Drosophila collecting trip through Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, subsidized by the Rockefeller Foundation. Russian scientist Dimitri Fyodorovich Sokoloff (1891–1973), living in Mexico at the time, accompanied him. See Ana Barahona and Francisco J. Ayala, “The Role Played by Theodosius Dobzhansky in the Emergence and Institutionalization of Genetics in Mexico,” Genetics 170 (2005): 981–987.

(34.) National Science Foundation Grant OIP 75-06738 and contract number 651 from CONACyT.

(35.) The main participants in the project were the Americans Louis Levine and Jeffrey Powell, both former students of Dobzhansky, and the Mexicans Rodolfo Félix, Olga Olvera, Judith Guzmán, Victor Salceda, and María Esther de la Rosa, former students of de Garay. Among the most important works, see Theodosius Dobzhansky, Rodolfo Félix, Judith Guzmán, Louis Levine, Olga Olvera, et al., “Population Genetics of Mexican Drosophila I: Chromosomal Variation in Natural Populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura from Central México,” Journal of Heredity 66 (1975): 205; Rodolfo Félix, Judith Guzmán, Louis Levine, Olga Olvera, Jeffrey R. Powell, et al., “Population Genetics of Mexican Drosophila II: A New Species of the obscura Group of the Genus Drosophila (Diptera, Drosophilidae),” The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 52 (1976): 167–171. After Dobzhansky’s death in 1975, many of the articles published contained the following sentence in the acknowledgments: “This paper is dedicated to Dr. Alfonso L. de Garay and to the memory of Th. Dobzhansky, initiators and guiding spirits of this program.”

(36.) Soraya de Chadarevian, “Putting Human Genetics on a Solid Basis: Human Chromosome Research, 1950–1970,” in Human Heredity in the Twentieth Century, eds. Bern Gausemeier, Staffan Müller-Wille and Edmund Ramsden (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013), 141–152.

(37.) José Luis Mateos Gómez and Carlos Beyer Flores, “Los Inicios de la Investigación en el Centro Médico Nacional del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social,” in La Reforma de la Investigación en el IMSS, ed. Santiago Echeverría Zuno, Alberto Lifshitz, and Fabio Salamanca (México: Media Relations Department, IMSS, 2012), 31–34.

(38.) Salvador Armendares, personal communication, March 20 and 28, 2008; see Barahona, “Historia de la Genetica.”

(39.) It is worth noting that Neel and Schull had begun the collaboration on the study of effects of radiation exposure among atomic survivors in Japan after the bombs. Much of what was known on the subject was the result of Neel and Schull’s studies.

(40.) The countries chosen were Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Honk Kong, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Panama, The Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and Yugoslavia. See Alan C. Stevenson, H. A. Johnston, M. I. P. Stewart, and D. R. Golding, “Congenital Malformations: A Report of a Study of Series of Consecutive Births in 24 Centers,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 34 (1966): 9–127.

(41.) For the results of the survey, see Ana Barahona, “Medical Genetics in Mexico: The Origins of Cytogentics and the Health Care System,” Historial Studies in the Natural Sciences 45 (2015): 147–173.

(42.) Salvador Armendares, Fabio Salamanca, and Silvestre Frenk, “Chromosome Abnormalities in Severe Protein Calorie Malnutrition,” Nature 232 (1971): 271–273; Salvador Armendares, Leonor Buentello, and Fabio Salamaca, “Case Report: An Extra Small Metacentric Autosome in a Mentally Retarded Boy with Multiple Malformations,” Journal of Medical Genetics 8.3 (1971): 378380; Fabio Salamanca, Leonor Buentello, and Salvador Armendares, “Ring D1 Chromosome with Remarkable Morphological Variation in a Boy with Mental Retardation,” Annals de Génétique 15.3 (1972): 183–186; and Salvador Armendares, Ricardo Cortés, and Luis de la Rosa, “El Componente Genético en la Mortalidad Infantil,” Revista de Investigación Clínica (México) 26 (1974): 3–18.