A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey

A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey: The Life and Work of L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza

Linda Stone
Paul F. Lurquin
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ston13396
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey
    Book Description:

    Drawing links between genetic and cultural development, Cavalli-Sforza developed groundbreaking techniques to trace the evolution of Homo sapiens and the origins of human differentiation, in addition to his earlier work in bacterial genetics. He is also the founder of the Human Genome Diversity Project and continues to work as the principal investigator at Stanford University's Human Population Genetics Laboratory. Based on extensive research and interviews with Cavalli-Sforza and his colleagues, this biography examines the scientist's life and his immense and occasionally controversial contributions to genetics, anthropology, and linguistics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50858-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Science and Society, Genes and Culture
    (pp. 1-22)

    One Saturday afternoon in 1988 a linguist, Merritt Ruhlen, walked into the JJ&F grocery store in Palo Alto, California. To his surprise he saw there a colleague, a Stanford University scientist, a tall, distinguished-looking Italian man, already prominent in his field of genetics. When they met in the store the scientist excitedly told the linguist about the positive first results of their collaboration: the mapping of human population gene frequencies on the globe was showing a strong correlation with the mapping of human language families! The scientist was so excited he grabbed a napkin and, no doubt amid strange glances...

  5. Chapter 2 From Medicine to Bacterial Genetics (1943–1960)
    (pp. 23-51)

    Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was born Luigi Cavalli in Genoa, Italy, on January 25, 1922, the year Benito Mussolini and his Blackshirts marched on Rome to establish a fascist dictatorship. Cavalli’s home country remained under Fascist and Nazi control until early 1945. By then, Cavalli had obtained his medical degree (in 1944) from the University of Pavia after having received his elementary and secondary education and spent his first year as a university student in Turin. One can see that Cavalli’s early landscape was solidly Northern Italian, a region characterized by rich history and turmoil. As is the case for so...

  6. Chapter 3 The Shift to Human Populations (1952–1970)
    (pp. 52-84)

    The twenty years or so that followed World War II saw a period of turmoil for Italy. But this country, which had not been much known for its cinema industry before the 1950s, suddenly burst onto the international scene with names like Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti (cousin of Cavalli’s collaborator mentioned in chapter 2), and the greatest of the great, Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura, 1960; La Notte, 1961). If you have not seen Italian neo-realism in movies, just rent Roma, città aperta (Open City, 1945), Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief, 1948), Riso amaro (Bitter Rice,...

  7. Chapter 4 Excursions into Human Culture (1970–)
    (pp. 85-113)

    The move from Italy to Stanford in 1971 was an important decision in Cavalli’s career. It was a move he has not regretted, although he did report missing the quality of Italian food and the beauty of small Italian cities. In his view the decision to leave Italy to live in the United States was probably more difficult for his wife, Alba. Most of his children were grown by this time; only the youngest, Violetta, then age twelve, was raised in the United States. Cavalli had claimed that the family’s to 1968–69 stay at Stanford was a “trial year”...

  8. Chapter 5 Genes, Languages, and Human Prehistory (1970–)
    (pp. 114-134)

    By now we have seen a few recurrent themes in Cavalli’s career: an integration of knowledge from different fields and openness to collaboration with others, an active imagination and a willingness to follow it into new directions. As Marcus Feldman put it to us, “[Cavalli] has no boundaries on the scope of his imagination…. Working with Luca opens up intellectual pursuits that are not normally viable.” Another colleague remarked, “He hasn’t just focused on a tiny little corner. I have always found that extremely inspiring.” Cavalli’s imagination and interdisciplinary abilities come to the fore in an important phase of his...

  9. Chapter 6 On to DNA Polymorphisms and the Y Chromosome (1984–)
    (pp. 135-159)

    Contributing to bacterial genetics, then mathematical population genetics, linguistics, cultural anthropology, and archaeology would categorize anyone as a modern-day Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), the famed early Italian Renaissance scholar who was reputed to have known everything that was known in his times. One could argue that, like Pico, Cavalli became a modern Renaissance man (if he was not one before) when he adopted the newly discovered DNA polymorphism technology. Repeatedly, Cavalli’s coworkers told us they found his knack for grasping data and his insights into new avenues of research to be astonishing. Not surprisingly the use of DNA instead...

  10. Chapter 7 The Human Genome Diversity Project (1991–)
    (pp. 160-176)

    In one year, Cavalli’s career both loomed toward new promise and fell into turmoil. This was 1991–92, one of the most turbulent periods in Cavalli’s life. He had begun to organize his most ambitious project—the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), a program to collect and analyze DNA samples globally. This was to produce a mine of data to comprehensively explore human prehistory, determine the genetic relationships between the earth’s populations, and provide valuable information on human genetic diseases. For this project Cavalli teamed up with Allan Wilson at Berkeley (of “African Eve” fame; see chapter 5). In 1991...

  11. Chapter 8 The Legacy
    (pp. 177-200)

    Legacy often implies controversy. Without controversy we have simple history: the passage of time, the passing on of genes, or the vertical transmission of stable cultural messages. Legacy is intellectually proactive. It is the affirmation that the future is more than a mere continuation of the past. Legacy is breakthrough: it is revisionism, revolution, or perhaps just a new way of looking at things. In our view, Cavalli’s legacy will be his vision that a great deal about human evolution—in its biological, cultural, and linguistic aspects—can be understood through looking at how and where human groups have moved...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 201-206)
  13. References
    (pp. 207-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-228)