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Hubby and Lewontin on protein variation in natural populations: When molecular genetics came to the rescue of population genetics

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1497-1503
Number of pages7
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


The 1966 GENETICS papers by John Hubby and Richard Lewontin were a landmark in the study of genome-wide levels of variability. They used the technique of gel electrophoresis of enzymes and proteins to study variation in natural populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura, at a set of loci that had been chosen purely for technical convenience, without prior knowledge of their levels of variability. Together with the independent study of human populations by Harry Harris, this seminal study provided the first relatively unbiased picture of the extent of genetic variability in protein sequences within populations, revealing that many genes had surprisingly high levels of diversity. These papers stimulated a large research program that found similarly high electrophoretic variability in many different species and led to statistical tools for interpreting the data in terms of population genetics processes such as genetic drift, balancing and purifying selection, and the effects of selection on linked variants. The current use of whole-genome sequences in studies of variation is the direct descendant of this pioneering work.

    Research areas

  • Electrophoresis, Heterozygosity, Hubby, Lewontin, Molecular variation

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