Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza

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Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza - Capo di Ponte (Foto Luca Giarelli).jpg
Cavalli-Sforza, October 2010.
Born (1922-01-25) 25 January 1922 (age 95)
Genoa, Italy
Occupation Geneticist
Awards Weldon Memorial Prize (1978)

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (Italian: [luˈiːdʒi ˈluːka kaˈvalli ˈsfɔrtsa]; born 25 January 1922) is an Italian-born population geneticist, who has been a professor (now emeritus) at Stanford University since 1970.


Schooling and positions[edit]

Cavalli-Sforza entered Ghislieri College in Pavia in 1939 and he received his M.D. from the University of Pavia in 1944. In 1949, he was appointed to a research post at the Department of Genetics, Cambridge University by the statistician and evolutionary biologist Ronald A. Fisher in the field of E. coli genetics.[1] In 1950, he left the University of Cambridge to teach in northern Italy, Milan, Parma, and Pavia, and before finally taking up a professorship at Stanford in 1970, where he remains as an Emeritus Professor.

In 1999 he won the Balzan Prize for the Science of human origins. He has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 1994. He was awarded the Telesio-Galilei Academy Award in 2011 for Biology.

Specific contributions[edit]

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 connections between migration patterns and blood groups.

Writing in the mid-1960s with another genetics student of Ronald A. Fisher, Anthony W. F. Edwards, Cavalli-Sforza pioneered statistical methods for estimating evolutionary trees (phylogenies); to estimate evolutionary trees, they used maximum likelihood estimation. Edwards and Cavalli-Sforza wrote about 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. In later papers, Cavalli-Sforza has written about 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 and others, initiated the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology known alternatively as coevolution, gene-culture coevolution, cultural transmission theory or dual inheritance theory. The publication Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (1981) made use of models from population genetics and infectious disease epidemiology 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 has summed up his work for laymen in five topics covered in Genes, Peoples, and Languages.[2] 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 book illustrates both the problems of constructing a general "hereditary tree" for the entire human race, and some mechanisms and data analysis methods to greatly reduce these problems, thus constructing a fascinating hypothesis of the recent 150,000 years of human expansion, migration, and human diversity formation.[3] In the book Cavalli-Sforza asserts that Europeans are, in their ancestry, about two-thirds Asian and one-third African.[4]

Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes[5] (1994 with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza) is a standard reference on human genetic variation. Cavalli-Sforza also wrote The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution (together with his son Francesco).

Earlier, in the 1970s, he and Walter Bodmer wrote what was the standard textbook on modern human genetics, and was also a basic reference for population genetics more generally, as the field was at the time, The Genetics of Human Populations. WHFreeman, 1971. The two, with Bodmer as first author, later wrote another more basic text, Genetics, Evolution, and Man WHFreeman, 1976. Along with his 1994 book these are essentially classical presentations of human genetics before the genomics era began providing very much more detailed data.


Cavalli-Sforza's proposed Human Genome Diversity Project to gather further genetic data from populations around the world did not advance as he originally envisioned the project. News articles about his proposal noted that (unnamed) critics of the project decried it for "cultural insensitivity, neocolonialism, and biopiracy."[6]

Cavalli-Sforza has conducted several studies of how language differences may serve as barriers to gene flow between adjacent human populations. His studies of human migration have tested hypotheses of linguists Merritt Ruhlen and Joseph Greenberg about language "superfamilies." The hypothesized superfamilies are controversial among other linguists.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwards, Prof Anthony (2015). "History of the Department — Department of Genetics". Para 5. Retrieved 2016-01-01. 
  2. ^ Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, Peoples, and Languages, tr. Mark Seielstad, North Point Press (2000) ISBN 0-86547-529-6
  3. ^ Geoffrey Carr, "Survey: The proper study of mankind", The Economist Vol. 356, no. 8177, pg. 11 (July 1, 2000).
  4. ^ Rothstein, Edward (2000-04-01). "SHELF LIFE; Dismantling Race and Unifying the Human Species". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  5. ^ Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., P. Menozzi, A. Piazza. 1994. The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton University Press, Princeton. ISBN 0-691-02905-9
  6. ^ Mitchell Leslie,"The History of Everyone and Everything", Stanford Magazine,; accessed 6 November 2016.


  • 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. ISBN 0-691-02905-9
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza. 1995. The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. Addison-Wesley ISBN 0-201-40755-8
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. 2000. Genes, Peoples, and Languages. North Point Press, New York. ISBN 0-86547-529-6
  • Cavalli Sforza, L. L, Il caso e la necessità – Ragioni e limiti della diversità genetica, 2007, Di Renzo Editore, Roma
  • Stone, Linda; Lurquin, Paul F.; Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca (2007). Genes, Culture, and Human Evolution: A Synthesis. Malden (MA): Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-5089-7. Lay summary (September 6, 2010). 


  • 2003 – Journey of Man

Further reading[edit]

  • Stone, Linda; Lurquin, Paul F. (2005). A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey: The Life and Work of L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13396-8. Lay summary (October 23, 2010). 

External links[edit]