Genetics Pioneer Dies

James Crow, who helped shaped public policy over his 70 year career, passed away last week.

Jan 12, 2012
Megan Scudellari


James Crow, an influential population geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died of congestive heart failure last Wednesday at the age of 95, the New York Times reported. A leader in the field for more than 50 years, Crow helped shape public policy on major genetics issues such as atomic radiation damage and the use of DNA in the courtroom. He was active in the scientific community right up until his death, working on a new paper in his campus office just two weeks ago, the university reported.

“He was the real organizer of population genetics in the United States,” Will Provine, a historian of biology at Cornell University, told the Times. Crow’s 1970 landmark textbook, "An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory," co-authored with Motoo Kimura, laid much of the groundwork for the mathematical basis of population genetics theory.

Crow was a member of a National Academy of Sciences genetics committee tasked with assessing mutational damage in those exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The committee’s concern about aboveground nuclear weapons testing led to the eventual ban on such activities in the United States and other countries. Crow also led a NAS committee in the 1990s that helped legitimize the use of DNA test results in the courtroom.

Crow was also an active public servant and an accomplished musician who played the viola in the Madison Symphony Orchestra from 1949-1994. He is survived by a son, two daughters, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.