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Dr. Robert Broom, F.R.S

Nature volume 159, page 598 (03 May 1947) | Download Citation



THE election of Dr. Robert Broom as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa is a recognition of a long life devoted to scientific work. As a student of medicine in Glasgow, Dr. Broom became fascinated by the problem of the ancestry of mammals, and on qualification migrated to New South Wales in order to work on the comparative anatomy and embryology of monotremes and marsupials while earning his living as a general practitioner. The Australian scientific world discovered his existence when a paper on the Organ of Jacobson arrived at the Linnean Society from an unknown man in the bush, to be followed by others. But during a visit to England, Broom saw some of the fossil reptiles recently brought from South Africa by Prof. H. G. Seeley, and realizing immediately that they presented a novel and direct approach to his problem of mammalian ancestry, sailed for South Africa instead of returning to Australia. There in a very few years he revolutionized our knowledge of the fossil reptiles of the Karroo, showed in broad outline, how they were related to one another, and introduced a zonal subdivision of the rocks in which they were found which has proved to be applicable in Russia and China as in Central Africa. In 1910 Broom visited New York and there discovered that the Pelycosaurs from the Texan Permian were closely related to the Deinocephalia, the most primitive group of the African mammal-like reptiles. His paper on this subject established this point once for all, and has ever since formed a point of departure from which all more recent work on the classification and evolution of reptiles has proceeded.

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