Molecular Evolution Activities

Advisory Board

Advisory Board

In assembling our advisory board, we have aimed to bring together a group of scientists and scholars who are not only well-versed in the population genetics and molecular biology, but also share an appreciation for the intricacies of the history and philosophy of science. The board's primary function is to guide the staff as we formulate the historical questions and topics that will serve as the backbone of this website. Additionally, board members will serve as liasons to the scientific communities interested in the history of molecular evolution. Our board members are: James Crow, John Gillespie, Richard C. Lewontin, Tomoko Ohta, and William B. Provine.

James Crow is Professor Emeritus of Genetics at University of Wisconsin, where he has taught since 1948. During his years at Wisconsin, Crow has served as chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics and the Laboratory of Genetics. He also served as Acting Dean of the UW Medical School for 2 years. Additionally, he has been President of the Genetics Society of America and the American Society of Human Genetics. Crow received his Ph.D. from University of Texas, Austin in 1941 and has been studying the population genetics of Drosophila and humans ever since. His research has ranged from investigations of the genetics of DDT resistance to the effects of small mutations on the overall fitness of populations. Crow has made numerous contributions to genetics, including: playing a significant role in the development of the concept of genetic load; writing the popular "Genetics Notes" guide for beginning genetics students (which has gone through eight editions and has been translated into several languages); and co-authoring the classic population genetics textbook, An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory (1970), with Motoo Kimura.

Crow has also spent much of his career tackling profoundly difficult issues at the intersection of science and society. Indeed, from 1955-1983, he served on various National Academy of Science committees that focused on the biological effects of ionizing radiation. Recently, he turned his attention to the development of genetic identification technologies that are used to determine paternity and convict criminals. From 1994-1996, he chaired the NAS's Committee on DNA Technology in Forensic Science; and from 1998-2000, he chaired the Department of Justice's Working Group on the Future of DNA Technology. A truly interdisciplinary scholar, Crow has also made significant contributions to the literature on history of genetics. Since 1987, Crow has regularly contributed to, and served as co-editor of, the "Perspectives: Anecdotal, Historical, and Critical Commentaries on Genetics" section of Genetics (several essays written for this column were recently collected and published as an edited volume by University of Wisconsin Press). In addition, he has also published several articles in peer-reviewed historical journals. Crow is also an accomplished musician, and performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra from 1949-1994. He served as President of the MSO from 1984-1986.

John Gillespie is Professor of Evolution at University of California, Davis and Chairperson of the Population Biology Graduate Group. He recieved his Ph.D. in zoology in 1970 from the University of Texas. Gillespie's research interests include the role of natural selection in evolutionary processes taking place in constantly changing environments, as well as stochastic processes in molecular evolution. Gillespie has published numerous articles on molecular evolution, the molecular clock, and the neutral theory. He is also the author of the well-known monograph, The Causes of Molecular Evolution (1991).

[this biography will be updated shortly]

Richard C. Lewontin is an evolutionary geneticist, philosopher of science, and social critic. He is best known among biologists for his role in the development of molecular population genetics in the 1960s and 1970s, especially the use of electrophoresis to study the evolutionary implications of enzyme polymorphisms. The two 1966 papers that he co-authored with J.L. Hubby on this topic are considered to be classics in the field. His 1972 article on "The Apportionment of Human Diversity," in which he argues that genetic variation is greater within "races" than between them, is considered a landmark paper in human genetics and is still frequently cited. Further, his classic 1974 work, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, is still required reading both aspiring population geneticists and philosophers of evolutionary biology.

Lewontin received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1954, where he was a student of Theodosius Dobzhansky. After professorships at North Carolina State University, University of Rochester and University of Chicago (where he served as Chairman of the Program in Evolutionary Biology from 1968-1973), Lewontin moved to Harvard University in 1973, where he has been ever since. He is currently Alexander Agassiz Research Professor there.

Lewontin's reputation, however, is not based simply on his many scientific and academic accomplishments. Over the past 30 years, he has turned his critical gaze toward the ways that biology is done and the place of science in society. In numerous books and articles, including Biology as Ideology, Not in Our Genes, and The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, he has challenged molecular biologists and geneticists to think about the living world more holistically than is currently fashionable. Lewontin is well-known for his scathing critiques of the rhetoric used by scientists to gain public support and funding for the Human Genome Project. Additionally, he has been concerned for many years with questions about the genetic and non-genetic variables that influence behavioral traits like intelligence and temperament.

After receiving her Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in 1967, Tomoko Ohta returned to Japan to begin a fellowship at to the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, under the direction of Motoo Kimura. Fortuitously, Ohta arrived at the Institute just as Kimura was beginning to formulate his theory of neutral evolution. In addition to collaborating with him on several important studies that provided evidence for the neutral theory, she went on to play a crucial role in the history of molecular genetics in her own right. Ohta is best-known for her nearly-neutral mutation hypothesis, which emphasizes the importance of the interaction of genetic drift and selection. She has also extensively studied the evolution of multigene families, focusing on the mechanisms of interaction between duplicated gene sequences.

Ohta has spent her entire career at the National Institute of Genetics, serving first as a research member from 1967-1984, then as a Professor in the Laboratory of Population Genetics from 1984 until her retirement in 1997. She is still active in molecular population genetics research is currently Professor Emeritas at the Institute. Ohta has also undertaken many administrative roles at the Institute, including a term as its Vice Director from 1990-1991. She is the author of nearly 150 articles, and co-author, with Kimura, of Theoretical Aspects of Population Genetics (1971).

In addition to earning numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the understanding of molecular evolution--including the Japan Academy Prize (1985) and the Weldon Memorial Prize (Oxford University, 1986)--Ohta has also be recognized for her role as a pioneering woman in science. She was awarded the Saruhashi Prize from the Society for the Bright Future of Women Scientists in 1981, as well as the Avon Special Prize for Women in 1986.

Historian of biology William B. Provine spent much of his childhood observing and collecting the plants, animals, and insects that surrounded his family's farm in Brentwood, Tennessee. He entered the University of Chicago in 1958, at the age of 16, and received his B.S. in Mathematics in 1962. During his two year tenure as a middle school teacher in Illinois, Provine came to believe that science could only be taught from a historical perspective. It was this realization that persuaded him to return to the University of Chicago in 1964 to pursue graduate study in History of Science.

In the process of searching for a dissertation topic, Provine took courses in evolution and genetics from Lynn Throckmonkton, Bill Baker, and Dick Lewontin. Not only did these courses instill in Provine a lifelong passion for the intricacies of evolutionary biology, they also caused him to give up his long-held belief in the kind of purposive design in nature expounded by thinkers like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Provine eventually decided to write his thesis on the origins of population genetics (at the suggestion of Lewontin) and received his Ph.D. in History of Science from Chicago in 1970. Shortly before completing his doctoral work, he earned a tenure-track professorship at Cornell University, where he has been ever since. Provine is currently Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of History of Biology, and teaches courses both on evolution and the history of evolutionary biology.

Provine is the author of numerous influential books and articles. His thesis, The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, was quickly published by University of Chicago Press in 1971 (2nd ed., 2001). Provine is perhaps best known for his biographical work, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (1986), as well as the volume he co-edited with Ernst Mayr, entitled The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (1980, 2nd ed. 1988). Both are considered starting points for any scholar who wishes to explore the history of twentieth century evolutionary biology.

This page was written by Jay Aronson on August 15, 2001.