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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 81
February 1, 1928–January 13, 2000
BY ERNEST BEUTLER
SUSUMU OHNO WAS BORN of Japanese parents in Seoul, Korea, on February 1, 1928. The second of five children, he was the son of the minister of education of the Japanese Viceroyship of Korea. He was born at a time when Japan was in many ways isolated from Western thought with its chief scientific links firmly established with Germany, and he was schooled in the years when a bitter war was fought between Japan and the United States and its Western allies. Yet, he was to emerge as one of America’s greatest scientists, exerting an enormous influence on our ideas about biology and evolution.
Ohno’s family was aristocratic and well educated. His maternal grandfather had been a justice of the Supreme Court of Korea and his paternal grandfather had been a scholar of Chinese language and history. As a high government official his father had traveled extensively, and Susumu lived in Korea and Japan during his childhood. His father nurtured ideas that were unusually liberal for someone in his position. He believed, for example, that people of all races were equal, an idea that impressed Susumu and one that he carried with him for his whole life. Susumu’s liberal views influenced the educational opportunities that were