In Memoriam - SMBE mourns the passing of Dr. Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin

Dear SMBE Members,

On the morning of July 4, 2021, population geneticist Richard “Dick” Lewontin passed away at the age of 92, just three days after his high-school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, Mary Jane. Both had been in poor health. Lewontin was an emeritus Professor in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Lewontin has left an indelible imprint on the field of evolutionary biology through his research, writing, and mentorship.

After finishing his undergraduate degree at Harvard, Lewontin trained under the supervision of the famous Drosophila geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia. Dobzhansky was often away collecting flies, which provided Lewontin freedom and independence. But, when Dobzhansky was back in the lab, they purportedly argued intensely about population genetics, an activity both parties enjoyed immensely.

Fresh after earning his PhD from Columbia, he moved to North Carolina State University, where he remained for just 4 years (1954-1958) before moving, first to the University of Rochester, and then to the University of Chicago. In his early work, Lewontin was known for bringing a mathematical modeling approach to the field of genetics. While most population genetics was focused on a single gene, his early work with Ken-Ichi Kojima essentially founded two-locus theory and introduced the term “linkage disequilibrium” to describe the statistical association between the variation at each of a pair of genes. This work laid the foundation for now commonly used, association-mapping approaches.

However, the primary reason Lewontin moved to Chicago was because he recognized the exciting work of biochemist Jack Hubby, a new faculty member, who was pioneering the method of gel electrophoresis. As Lewontin put it: Hubby had a method but no question, and he had a question but no method. Together, they published two ground-breaking papers in Genetics: Hubby & Lewontin (1966) and Lewontin & Hubby (1966). The first focused on the method by which one could assay genetic variation via gel electrophoresis, and the second applied this method to assess genetic variation in a population of Drosophila pseudoobscura. Lewontin complained – even decades later – how the latter paper was more highly cited, and Hubby wasn’t adequately recognized for his contributions. Nonetheless, together, these papers laid the foundation for the field of molecular evolution, by (1) demonstrating the surprisingly high amount of genetic variation (heterozygosity) in natural populations and (2) setting the stage for the still ongoing debate about how much of this variation was due to natural selection and how much was due to chance. See Charlesworth et al. (2016) for more detail. As a direct consequence of these studies, Motoo Kimura and his colleagues developed the neutral theory, which tries to explain in quantitative terms the observed pattern of genetic variation expected in the absence of any form of natural selection. Thus, effectively, these papers set the agenda, for both empirical and theoretical population genetics, for the ensuing decades and to the current era of population genomics.

In 1973, Lewontin was lured to Harvard University and the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) to serve as a “Curator of Population Genetics”, a new position designed for him. He was offered the entire third floor of the MCZ, which he had renovated to his specifications. Most notably, in the center was an expa

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  • Friday, July 09, 2021
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Election results President-Elect and two Councillors 2022

As announced earlier on social media, our election for President-elect and two Councillors whose terms will begin on 1 January 2022 resulted in the following appointments:

SMBE President-elect: Dr. Kateryna Makova

A native of Ukraine, Kateryna Makova received her PhD from Texas Tech University, where she studied the genetic consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident. She then completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Chicago, where she investigated differences in mutation rates between males and females, among other topics. She has been a Professor in the Department of Biology at the Pennsylvania State University since 2003. Her laboratory conducts research in evolutionary and medical genomics. Current topics of interest include sex chromosome evolution, evolution of non-B DNA, mitochondrial DNA evolution, regional variation in mutation rates, and childhood obesity. The research in Kateryna’s laboratory is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative. The group collaborates with statisticians, computer scientists, and biochemists.

During her career Kateryna has mentored 15 PhD students and 11 postdoctoral fellows, and co-authored over 100 scientific manuscripts. She currently directs the Center for Medical Genomics, which brings together basic science and medical researchers at Penn State University. She is an Editor of Genome Research and is a member of the Board of Scientific Counsellors to the National Library of Medicine (the National Institutes of Health).

Kateryna still remembers attending her first SMBE meeting in 1998 in Vancouver. She has been an active member of the society since then. Kateryna was a member of the Organizing Committee of the SMBE annual meeting hosted in 2004 at Penn State. In subsequent years, she was a member of the Nominating Committee, Fitch Prize Awards Committee, and Travel Awards Committee, as well as organized multiple symposia at the SMBE annual meetings. Kateryna was a Councillor of SMBE in 2015-2017. Her main contributions while serving at the Council include establishing the uniform annual meeting format and handling the satellite meetings program. She has been a strong supporter (and an occasional user) of the childcare program and advocated for increasing the number and amount of meeting travel awards. Kateryna was a member of the Editorial Board of Genome Biology and Evolution from the foundation of the journal in 2009 and until 2020.

As the next SMBE President, Kateryna proposes to work on:

  • Developing a hybrid meeting format for future SMBE conferences, which should include in-person and on-line events. What can we learn from the pandemic? How can we build an annual conference that enables both on-line attendance to anyone in the world and live interactions to those who can travel.
  • Augmenting annual SMBE conferences with public lectures given by our leading researchers. Communicating our scientific discoveries to the public, including school students and teachers, is of paramount importance in the time when science is not trusted in many countries.
  • Establishing novel mentorship opportunities at all career levels (from undergraduate students to assistant professors) within the society both during and outside of the annual meeting. Females and people from minority groups should have a priority in such mentorship opportunities.
  • Expanding regional meeting programs to include more developing countries. Not everyone can afford to attend an annual meeting on another co

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  • Thursday, July 08, 2021
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MBE - Call for Editors-in-Chief (EiCs)

The Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) is looking for evolutionary biologists with an active research program to lead its journal Molecular Biology and Evolution (MBE) as Editors-in-Chief (EiCs). The EiCs have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to the advancement of our field and the success of the journal, hence SMBE itself. The EiCs oversee the running of the journal with a focus on scientific content and smooth operations. They also serve as ex officio on the SMBE council to contribute to strategic discussions and deliberations on academic publishing. The SMBE Council appoints the EiCs. The Oxford University Press currently publishes MBE.

The term of the new EiCs will begin no later than June 2022, but an earlier start would be preferable as it would allow a period of ‘shadowing’ of the outgoing EiC, which we expect would make for a smoother handover. The SMBE Council may choose to appoint a sole EiC or make a joint appointment (preferred). EiC candidates may apply as a team or indicate their willingness to be matched with another applicant.

MBE is a high-impact journal established in 1983 and is one of the leading and most influential evolution journals. MBE publishes fresh insights into the patterns and processes that impact the evolution of life at molecular levels across a full breadth of taxonomy, genomic organization, and functions, forms, and phenotypes. MBE's Methods, Resource, and Protocol sections provide our community with cutting-edge evolutionary research tools that enable discovery, while our Reviews and Perspectives present syntheses to inspire new directions in evolutionary thought. From 1 January 2021, MBE has become completely open access.

The EiC roles and responsibilities include:

  • Nominating senior and associate editors to the editorial board. The SMBE Council provides the final approval.
  • Ensuring that the composition of the editorial board reflects the SMBE policy and practice of equality, diversity, and inclusion;
  • Has the ultimate responsibility for decision-making on manuscript acceptances, appeals, and scientific-fit with the journal;
  • Making strategic decisions regarding the journal publication strategy and quality control; and,
  • Promoting MBE content to the public and all relevant scientific communities.

The initial appointment will be for a term of 4 or 5 years, the terms of which will be laid out in a contract signed with SMBE under the guidance of our publisher. Under the SMBE bylaws, an individual cannot serve more than two terms in all SMBE journals combined.

Interested candidates may contact Aoife McLysaght aoife.mclysaght@tcd.ie with informal inquiries or directly apply by email to the same address. The application must include the following information:

               i. Desc

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  • Tuesday, July 06, 2021
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