In Remembrance of: Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (1922–2018)

This is just a brief GEITP note to report the passing of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, who died at home in Belluno, Italy, 31 Aug 2018; next week would have been his 97th birthday. Professor Cavalli-Sforza was past president of the American Society of Human Genetics (1989) and winner of the ASHG’s Allan Award (1987), and he was awarded the Balzan Prize (1999). He is survived by his four children — Matteo, Francesco, Luca Tommaso, and Violetta — and their families; his wife of more than 60 years predeceased him in 2015.

For several decades Professor Cavalli-Sforza has been internationally recognized as one of the world’s foremost human population genetics pioneers — enjoying an active research career that spanned 70 years. 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. He also studied the relationships between migration patterns and blood groups.

Writing in the mid-1960s with Anthony W D Edwards, Cavalli-Sforza pioneered statistical methods for estimating evolutionary trees (phylogenies). To estimate evolutionary trees, they used maximum likelihood estimation (MLE) [see this web site for more information:]. Edwards and Cavalli-Sforza wrote about trees of populations within the human species, where genetic differences are affected both by tree-like patterns of historical separation of populations, and by spread of genes among populations by migration and admixture

I was first introduced to Professor Cavalli-Sforza’s far-reaching ideas by my friend and colleague, Anil Menon (University of Cincinnati), who gave me as a gift Cavalli-Sforza’s 1995 book, titled “The Great Human Diasporas – The History of Diversity and Evolution”, which was coauthored by one of his sons, Francesco Cavalli-Sforza. I have read that book more than once and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the migration (diaspora) of humans across the planet, and the development of geographically isolated groups that represent today’s five major branches of populations on Earth — African, East Asian, Oceanian, Caucasian and Amerindian.


Am J Hum Genet 3 Jan 2o19; 104: 11–12

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