Richard Lewontin and the “complications of linkage”

Michael R. Dietrich, Oren Harman, Ehud Lamm*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


During the 1960s and 1970s population geneticists pushed beyond models of single genes to grapple with the effect on evolution of multiple genes associated by linkage. The resulting models of multiple interacting loci suggested that blocks of genes, maybe even entire chromosomes or the genome itself, should be treated as a unit. In this context, Richard Lewontin wrote his famous 1974 book The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, which concludes with an argument for considering the entire genome as the unit of selection as a result of linkage. Why did Lewontin and others devote so much intellectual energy to the “complications of linkage” in the 1960s and 1970s? We argue that this attention to linkage should be understood in the context of research on chromosomal inversions and co-adapted gene complexes that occupied mid-century evolutionary genetics. For Lewontin, the complications of linkage were an extension of this chromosomal focus expressed in the new language of models for linkage disequilibrium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-244
Number of pages8
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
StatePublished - Aug 2021


FundersFunder number
Charles Langley and Montgomery Slatkin


    • Linkage
    • Modeling
    • Population Genetics
    • Richard Lewontin
    • Units of selection


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