April 25, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 16

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    Obituary: John Hubby, BSD

    John Lee Hubby, a retired professor in the Biological Sciences Division at the University and a leader in understanding the relationship between evolution and genetic variation, died after a brief illness at his Santa Fe, N.M., home on March 28. He was 64.

    Hubby was a pioneer in developing the technique of gel electrophoresis, a research tool that can reveal minor differences between specific genes from different organisms, and in applying this technique to population genetics. In the early 1960s, he began a series of electrophoresis studies that charted the extent of genetic variation between the same genes in different species and used that difference as a measure of the evolutionary distance between those organisms.

    He is best known, however, for two classic 1966 papers written in collaboration with colleague Richard Lewontin, who was then on the faculty at Chicago and is now at Harvard. Hubby and Lewontin used gel electrophoresis to measure the amount of variation in the same genes taken from different members of a population of fruit flies. Contrary to expectations, they found a great deal of genetic diversity among normal flies of the same species.

    "This was a breakthrough, a revolutionary finding," recalled Brian Charlesworth, the George Wells Beadle Distinguished Service Professor in Ecology & Evolution. "It led to an explosion of work. Everyone in the field rushed out to duplicate these studies in other organisms, including humans, and they found more and more examples of genetic diversity."

    This discovery -- that a large number of normal, functioning genes exist in slightly different forms and produce slightly different proteins -- forced evolutionary theorists to reconsider many of the basic tenets of the developing field.

    "This work was extremely fruitful; it opened a whole new area of study," said Janice Spofford, Associate Professor in Ecology & Evolution. "By developing the tools to characterize different forms of the same genes and revealing how genes varied between species and even within a species, Hubby provided an experimental base for a great deal of subsequent evolutionary theory."

    Hubby received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1959, the same year he came to Chicago as a postdoctoral fellow. He joined the faculty in 1960 and was named Professor in 1971. In 1973, he won the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He retired to New Mexico in 1985.

    He is survived by his wife, former University faculty member Marian Hubby (nee Munroe), of Santa Fe, and by three children from a previous marriage, daughter Donya Corry and sons Allen and John Clifton, all of New York.