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Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (born January 25, 1922) is an Italian population geneticist born in Genoa, who has been a professor at Stanford University since 1970 (now emeritus).




One of the more distinguished geneticists of the 20th century, he has summed up his work for laymen under five topics covered in Genes, Peoples, and Languages (2000). Physiologist and evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond praised the work for "demolishing scientists' attempts to classify human populations into races in the same way that they classify birds and other species into races." According to an article published in The Economist, the work of Cavalli-Sforza "challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that 'race' has any useful biological meaning at all." (The Human Genome Survey, 1 July 2000, pg. 11)

Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994 with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza) is considered a standard reference on human genetic variation. Cavalli-Sforza also wrote The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution (with his son Francesco).

Once the genetic structure of inheritance had been made plain, Cavalli-Sforza was one of the first scientists to ask whether the genes of modern populations might contain an inherited historical record of the human species. The study of demographics was already well-established, based on linguistic, cultural, and archaeological clues, but it had become overlaid with nationalist and racist ideologies. Cavalli-Sforza initiated a new field of research by combining the concrete findings of demography with a newly-available analysis of blood groups in an actual human population.

Cavalli-Sforza has studied the connections between migration patterns and blood groups.

His papers in the mid-1960's with Anthony Edwards pioneered statistical methods for reconstructing evolutionary trees (phylogenies). They introduced the first parsimony method, which searched for the tree that connected the populations with the least change in gene frequencies. They also were first to use maximum likelihood methods to estimate phylogenies. They had an early distance matrix method as well. In effect, their work in 1963-1964 introduced two of the three major numerical methods for reconstructing phylogenies, with distance matrix methods having also been introduced by Walter Fitch. Edwards and Cavalli-Sforza were always concerned with trees of populations within the human species, where genetic differences are affected both by treelike patterns of historical separation of populations and by spread of genes among populations by migration and admixture. Cavalli-Sforza has been concerned with the effects of both divergence and migration on human gene frequencies.

While Cavalli-Sforza is best known for his work in genetics, he also, in collaboration with Marcus Feldman, initiated the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology known alternatively as coevolution, gene-culture coevolution, cultural transmission theory or dual inheritance theory. The seminal publication Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (1981) made use of models from population genetics to investigate the transmission of culturally transmitted units. This line of inquiry initiated research into the correlation of patterns of genetic and cultural dispersion.

Cavalli-Sforza received his M.D. from the University of Pavia in 1944. His post-war studies at Cambridge in the area of bacterial genetics were followed by years of teaching in northern Italy, in Milan, Parma, and Pavia, and a move in 1970 to Stanford, where he found the intellectual culture more open-ended and cooperative, and where he has remained.


His proposed ambitious Human Genome Diversity Project to gather further genetic data from populations around the world was accused of "cultural insensitivity, neocolonialism, and biopiracy." [1]

Linguist Bill Poser in Language Log has criticized some of Cavalli-Sforza's comments about linguistics, [2] in particular the suggestion, echoing controversial linguists Merritt Ruhlen and Joseph Greenberg, that some mainstream linguists are unnecessarily conservative about hypothesized long-range relationships between language families, and an overstatement that Greenberg's critics "have ruled out the possibility of hierarchical classification", which Cavalli-Sforza did not defend when challenged by Poser, but deferred to Ruhlen. Cavalli-Sforza's interest in hypothesized large-scale language families is as a basis for comparison with similarly large-scale postulated genetic classifications of human populations.


  • "The classification into races has proved to be a futile exercise for reasons that were already clear to Darwin." (Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, & Piazza, 1994, p. 19).

See also


  • Edwards, A.W,F, and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza. 1964. Reconstruction of evolutionary trees. pp. 67-76 in Phenetic and Phylogenetic Classification, ed. V. H. Heywood and J. McNeill. Systematics Association pub. no. 6, London.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. and A.W.F. Edwards. 1965. Analysis of human evolution. pp. 923-933 in Genetics Today. Proceedings of the XI International Congress of Genetics, The Hague, The Netherlands, September, 1963, volume 3, ed. S. J. Geerts, Pergamon Press, Oxford.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. and A.W.F. Edwards. 1967. Phylogenetic analysis: models and estimation procedures. American Journal of Human Genetics 19:233-257.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. and W. F. Bodmer. 1971. The Genetics of Human Populations. W. H. Freeman, San Francisco (reprinted 1999 by Dover Publications).
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. and M. Feldman. 1981. Cultural Transmission and Evolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., P. Menozzi, A. Piazza. 1994. The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Cavalli Sforza, L. L, Il caso e la necessità - Ragioni e limiti della diversità genetica, 2007, Di Renzo Editore, Roma


  • 2003 - Journey of Man
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Luigi_Luca_Cavalli-Sforza". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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