Richard Lewontin: biography of this biologist

Richard Lewontin is known in his field, evolutionary biology, as a controversial figure. He is a staunch opponent of genetic determinism, but he is still one of the greatest geneticists of the second half of the twentieth century.

He is also a mathematician and evolutionary biologist, and laid the foundation for the study of population genetics, while being a pioneer in the application of molecular biology techniques. Let’s see more about this researcher through a brief biography of Richard Lewontin.

    Biography of Richard Lewontin

    Here is a summary of the life of Richard Lewontin, known for studying population genetics and criticizing traditionally Darwinian ideas.

    Early years and training

    Richard Charles ‘Dick’ Lewontin was born on March 29, 1929 in New York within a family of Jewish immigrants.

    He attended Forest Hills High School and Lliure School of Advanced Studies in New York, and in 1951 graduated from Harvard University with a degree in biology. A year later he would receive a master’s degree in statistics, followed by a doctorate in zoology in 1945.

    Professional career as a researcher

    Lewontin worked in the study of population genetics. He is known to be one of the first people to make a computer simulation of the locus behavior of a gene and how it would be inherited after a few generations.

    With Ken-Ichi Kojima in 1960, they set a very important precedent in the history of biology, formulate equations explaining the frequency changes of haplotypes in natural selection contexts. In 1966, with Jack Hubby, he published a scientific article which marked a real revolution in the study of population genetics. Using genes from the fly Drosophila pseudoobscura, they saw that on average there was a 15% chance that the individual was heterozygous, meaning that they had a combination of more than one allele for the same gene. .

    He also studied genetic diversity in the human population. In 1972, he published an article in which indicated that most of the genetic variation, nearly 85%, is found in local clusters, While the differences attributed to the traditional concept of race do not represent more than 15% of the genetic diversity of the human species. This is why Lewontin almost radically opposed any genetic interpretation that guarantees that ethnic, social and cultural differences are a rigid product of genetic determination.

    However, this statement did not go unnoticed and other researchers have shown differing opinions. For example, in 2003 AWF Edwards, a British geneticist and evolutionist, criticized Lewontin’s claims, saying that race, for better or for worse, could still be considered a valid taxonomic construct.

      Vision on evolutionary biology

      Richard Lewontin’s opinion on genetics is distinguished by his criticisms of other evolutionary biologists. In 1975, EO Wilson, an American biologist, proposed in his book Sociobiology evolutionary explanations of human social behavior. Lewontin has maintained much controversy with sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, such as Wilson or Richard Dawkins, who offer an explanation of animal behavior and social dynamics in terms of adaptive advantage.

      According to these researchers, social behavior will be maintained if it involves some kind of advantage within the group. Lewontin is not in favor of this claim, and in several articles and one of his best known works is not at all denounced the theoretical shortcomings of genetic reductionism.

      In response to these statements, he proposed the concept of “dry”. In evolutionary biology, a carcanyol is the set of traits of an organism that exist as a necessary consequence for other traits, which may or may not be adaptive, to occur, although they do not. Do not necessarily imply an improvement in their strength or their survival in the environment in which they lived, that is to say that this set of traits does not necessarily have to be adaptive.

      In Organism and the Environment, Lewontin criticizes the traditionally Darwinian view that organisms are only passive receptors of environmental influences. For Richard Lewontin, organisms are able to influence their own environment, acting as active builders. The ecological niches are not preformed nor are they empty receptacles in which life forms are also inserted. These niches are defined and created by the life forms that inhabit them.

      In the most adaptive vision of evolution, the environment is seen as something autonomous and independent of the organism, without the latter influencing the former or shaping it. However, Lewontin argues, from a more constructivist perspective, that the organism and the environment have a dialectical relationship, In which the two influence each other and change at the same time. Over generations, the environment changes and individuals acquire both anatomical and behavioral changes.


      Richard Lewontin has written on the economic dynamics of “agro-industry”, translatable into agro-industry or agricultural enterprise. He argued that hybrid corn was developed and propagated not because it is better than traditional cornBut because it allowed agricultural companies to force farmers to buy new seeds every year instead of planting their varieties for life.

      This led him to testify at a lawsuit in California, trying to change state funding for research into more productive seed varieties, considering it to involve great interest in business and harm to the business. average American farmer.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Lewontin, RC; Kojima, K. (December 1960). “The evolutionary dynamics of complex polymorphisms”. Evolution. Society for the Study of Evolution. 14 (4): 458–472. doi: 10.2307 / 2405995.
      • Lewontin, RC (January 1966). “Is nature likely to be capricious?” BioScience. University of California Press. 16 (1, Logic in Biological Research): 25-27. doi: 10.2307 / 1293548.
      • Lewontin, RC (1970). “Selection units”. Annual review of ecology and systematics. 1: 1–18. doi: 10.1146 /
      • Lewontin, RC 1982. Agricultural research and capital penetration. Science for the People 14 (1): 12-17.
      • Lewontin, RC 2000. The maturation of capitalist agriculture: the farmer as proletarian. Pages 93-106 to F. Magdoff, JB Foster and FH Buttel, Eds. 2000. Appetite for Profit: The Threat of Agribusiness to Farmers, Food and the Environment. Monthly Review Press, New York.
      • Lewontin, RC (2000) Not Necessarily: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions, New York Review of Books.

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