James F. Crow in Genetics

By Razib Khan | December 16, 2011 12:03 am

At 95 James F. Crow is not only an eminent population geneticist, but he knew the figures who were responsible for the whole field. The journal Genetics has commissioned a series of essays and perspectives in his honor. The first is by Daniel Hartl. I thought this was funny:

Soon after joining the program I asked Professor Crow whether I could join his lab as a graduate student. He thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, Dan, provided you understand that population genetics is a recondite field that will never be of great interest except to a small group of specialists.” I remember this because afterward I hurried to look up “recondite” in the dictionary. His admonition made population genetics seem like some variety of monasticism, which, being an admirer of Gregor Mendel, was all right by me. Little did either of us foresee that genetics would be transformed in our lifetimes by genomic sequencing on a population scale and the development of computer technologies capable of analyzing terabytes of data and that population genetics would become a key approach for understanding human evolutionary history as well as for identifying genetic risk factors for common diseases.

I had the privilege of interviewing Crow in 2006. My email requesting an interview was sent only on the smallest probability of a reply, but he replied immediately! And when I sent my questions again the reply was nearly immediate. My favorite of Crow’s answers: “In my view it is wrong to say that research in this area — assuming it is well done — is out of order. I feel strongly that we should not discourage a line of research because someone might not like a possible outcome.” At his age he’s seen many fashions come and go. But nature abides and persists.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Population Genetics
MORE ABOUT: James F. Crow
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Comments (3)

  1. Charles Nydorf

    As we say in Yiddish ‘Biz a hundert un tsvantsik un nokh a hundert un tsvantsik!’ “May he live to be a hundred and twenty and then another hundred and twenty years!”

  2. Amit

    I had to google the definition of recondite when I read it too!
    Very nice tribute to James Crow!

  3. gcochran

    Jim Crow will never die !

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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