Richard Lewontin, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, died on July 4 at the age of 92. Mary Jane Lewontin, his wife of more than 70 years, died three days earlier, on July 1st. Lewontin studied genetic diversity within populations and contributed to develop the use of protein gel electrophoresis to examine it at the molecular level.
“He is considered one of the greats of evolutionary biology”Adriana Briscoe, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, who graduated from the Lewontin laboratory from 1993 to 1998, tells The Scientist. “He is considered a giant in his field.”
Born in New York in 1929, Lewontin graduated with a degree in biology from Harvard University in 1951 and then went to Columbia University to study fruit fly population density with his graduate advisor, Theodosius Dobzhansky, according to the New York Times. He graduated with a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in zoology in 1954.
In 1966, at the University of Chicago, Lewontin and John Hubby published two papers that pioneered the use of protein gel electrophoresis to study genetic variation within wild fruit fly populations. The technique not only did it lay the foundation for the field of molecular genetics, but revealed a surprising amount of genetic diversity within the population.
He joined Harvard in 1973 as a professor and remained there until his retirement in 2003, according to a memorial written by the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.