Richard Lewontin, a geneticist who spent much of his career at Harvard University and sparred with other researchers, has died, according to the New York Times. He was 92.
In the 1960s, Lewontin and the University of Chicago's John Hubby uncovered higher levels of genetic diversity among the same species than expected, upending the field, the Times says. The Scientist notes that Lewontin and Hubby pioneered the use of protein gel electrophoresis to study genetic diversity among fruit flies.
The Times adds that Lewontin further found using genetic markers like blood groups that there were fewer genetic differences between groups of people than expected, meaning that human racial and ethnic groups are very similar.
Lewontin, the Times notes, was also critical of the emerging field of sociobiology and clashed with E.O. Wilson, another Harvard professor. He "considered Dr. Wilson a naïve genetic determinist and once derided him as a 'corpse in the elevator,'" the Times writes. It adds that Lewontin also was not in favor the Human Genome Project and balked at the idea that the genome is a "blueprint" for a person.
"He was blunt and gruff, the kind of person who did not suffer fools gladly, but he also had a sense of humor, a lot of fondness for his students, and he told entertaining stories," the University of California, Irvine's Adriana Briscoe, who was a graduate student in Lewontin's lab in the 1990s, tells the Scientist.