Jeff Wheelwright

After Yale (1969) and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (1971), I worked in public television and as an editor for the monthly Life magazine. Since 1989 I have been out on my own. Science writing has been my specialty, but gradually the study of history and religion has liberated me from science writing.

I produced two books, Degrees of Disaster, about the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1994), and The Irritable Heart, about the Persian Gulf War illnesses (2001). The latter was supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. I turned to human genetics for my next topic because of interest sparked by the Human Genome Project. Below you will find a current selection of my articles on genetics and other topics, most of them written for Discover magazine.

In 2007 I started the reporting for my third book. A breast-cancer mutation that is characteristic of Jews was discovered in Catholic Hispanos in New Mexico and the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The mutation proves that its carriers have Jewish ancestry, at least in part. In 2008 I published an article about this, The Secret of San Luis Valley, in Smithsonian magazine, and in 2009 I was awarded a J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship to support the writing of the book. The title of the book is The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA. It was published in January, 2012, by W. W. Norton.

For the rest, I live with my wife on the Central Coast of California, where I sing in the choir of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and take pleasure in the outdoors.


Recent Writing  

Articles on Genetics

The Revolution Will Be Edited, about Crispr-Cas9, the gene-editing technology

Mosquito, Modified, about plans to alter mosquitoes genetically

Days of Dysevolution, about the mismatch between adaptive traits and modern diseases

Defining Jews, Defining a Nation: Can Genetics Save Israel?, about a genetics conference held in Herzliya, Israel, in June, 2011


Articles on Medicine

This Old Brain, in which I have my head scanned by MRI as part of a study of the aging brain

The Heart of Mississippi, about heart disease in a population of African-Americans

The Science is Still Gray on CTE, about brain damage in professional football players

Risky Medicine, about the health risks of preventive medicine


Articles on Environment

High Consequences, about the effects of illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands

Hemmed In, about the fragmentation of wildlife habitat in the desert Southwest

Tracking a Wolverine Through the American West, about a solo wolverine seemingly lost in the Sierra Nevada range


New York Times Op-Ed pieces

The Many Droughts of California, 4-3-15

In a Polluted Stream, a Pathway to Peace, 10-9-13