Avise, John C. 1948–

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Avise, John C. 1948–

(John Charles Avise)

PERSONAL: Born September 19, 1948, in Grand Rapids, MI; son of Reginald Dean and Edith Dorothy (Johnson) Avise; married Joan Marie Yanov, December 24, 1979; children: Jennifer Ann. Education: University of Michigan, B.S., 1970; University of Texas—Austin, M.A., 1971; University of California—Davis, Ph.D., 1975. Hobbies and other interests: Nature study, sports.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Life Sciences Building, Athens, GA 30602. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: University of Georgia, Athens, assistant professor of zoology, 1975–79, associate professor, 1979–84, professor of genetics, beginning 1984, currently distinguished research professor emeritus.

MEMBER: American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), National Academy of Science (fellow), American Ornithologists' Union (fellow), Society for the Study of Evolution (president, 1994), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Genetic Association (president, 2000), Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution (president, 2004).

AWARDS, HONORS: Brewster Award, American Ornithological Union, 1997; Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation, Pew Foundation, 1998; Lamar Dodd Award, University of Georgia.



Molecular Markers, Natural History and Evolution, Chapman & Hall (New York, NY), 1994, second edition, Sinaur (Sunderland, MA), 2004.

(Editor, with J.L. Hamrick) Conservation Genetics: Case Histories from Nature, Chapman & Hall (New York, NY), 1996.

The Genetic Gods: Evolution and Belief in Human Affairs, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Phylogeography: The History and Formation of Species, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

Captivating Life: A Naturalist in the Age of Genetics (memoir), Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 2001.

Genetics in the Wild, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 2002.

The Hope, Hype, & Reality of Genetic Engineering, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of articles to scientific journals. Has served as member of editorial board, Systematic Zoology, Paleobiology, Genetica, Genetics, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Journal of Molecular Evolution, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Molecular Ecology.

SIDELIGHTS: Known as the father of phylogeography (the study of how geography plays a role in the distribution of genealogical lineages of animals, primarily through the study of mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA), evolutionary geneticist John C. Avise has published a number of books on this subject as well as other topics in genetics, zoology, and natural history. He has written books for both scholars and general audiences.

Two books written by Avise that are intended for a general audience are The Genetic Gods: Evolution and Belief in Human Affairs and Genetics in the Wild. The Genetic Gods is Avise's overview of genetics, its history, the genetic proof for evolution, and the process of evolution in terms of genetics. "Avise does a superb job of discussing many of the ethical implications that have arisen from our growing knowledge of human genetics," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. For its intended audience, "the book is an excellent distillation of a broad and increasingly important field," according to David W. Hodo in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Genetics in the Wild contains Avise's accessible explanations for the many previously unexplainable questions in nature and natural history. Divided into sections to individually address each question, the book tells related stories and draws on the author's scientific background to provide the answers. Some of the mysteries he discusses include the migration patterns of whales and the relationship of Neanderthals to humans.

Intended for an audience of scientists and graduate students are Avise's Phylogeography: The History and Formation of Species and Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution. The former is an evolutionary biology textbook that provides concrete examples of phylogeography, such as where humans evolved in a geographic sense and how the African cichlid fish quickly evolved into many new species.

The updated and expanded second edition of Avise's Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution was published in 2004. The first edition became a primary reference book for scientists and graduate students on molecular evolutionary biology. The second edition was expected to serve the same purpose. In a review published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, Axel Meyer found the new edition praiseworthy. Meyer wrote, "With admirable clarity and astonishing breadth and depth, Avise authoritatively reviews the seemingly exponentially increasing literature in fields ranging from molecular phylogenetics and phylogeography to conservation biology and population genetics."

In 2001 Avise published a book that crosses popular and academic lines. Captivating Life: A Naturalist in the Age of Genetics is his scientific memoir about his life and work, beginning from his childhood interest in natural history and going through his own evolution as a scientist and the methods he has used to come to his conclusions. In Captivating Life, Avise discusses both the development of his methods for studying molecular genetics and the application of his methodology, including his field work studying various species such as the nine-banded armadillo and horseshoe crab. He also includes his ideas about conservation and the evolution of his own theories. While some critics found the book difficult for a general audience, a reviewer in Publishers Weekly commented, "On occasion the author's ego obscures his sturdy prose, though these lapses are overcome by guileless confessions of personal and professional faults."

Avise once told CA: "My laboratory is interested in the study of the natural history, phylogeography, and evolution of natural populations through the use of molecular genetic markers. Laboratory methods include a variety of protein and DNA assays, with particular emphasis on restriction site and sequence analyses of mitochondrial DNA, alone or in conjunction with allozymes, microsatellites, and other nuclear gene markers. Topics studied range from micro-to macro-evolutionary, and research has been conducted on all major vertebrate groups and selected invertebrates. In most cases, the primary focus is on understanding the natural histories and evolution of organisms through application of molecules as genetic markers, but a secondary concern includes the elucidation of features of the protein and DNA molecules themselves. Effort in the laboratory has also been devoted to concepts and theories of population genetics and speciation. The theory and practice of evolutionary genetics are highly relevant to conservation biology, an area that provides an underlying theme to most of our research. I am also interested in evolutionary-genetic findings as applied to the human species, and that is the topic of my book The Genetic Gods: Evolution and Belief in Human Affairs."



Avise, John C., Captivating Life: A Naturalist in the Age of Genetics, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 2001.


Journal of the American Medical Association, December 8, 1999, David W. Hodo, review of The Genetic Gods: Evolution and Belief in Human Affairs, p. 2179.

Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Eric D. Albright, review of The Genetic Gods, p. 208, September 1, 2001, Margaret Henderson, review of Captivating Life, p. 219.

Natural History, October, 1998, review of The Genetic Gods, p. 14.

Nature, August 4, 1994, John F. Y. Brookfield, review of Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, p. 338.

Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1998, review of The Genetic Gods, p. 70; July 23, 2001, review of Captivating Life, p. 62.

Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2004, Axel Meyer, review of Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, p. 414.

Science, January 6, 1995, Allan Larson, review of Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, p. 115, January 29, 1999, review of The Genetic Gods, p. 645.

Times Literary Supplement, August 2, 2002, John Tyler Bonner, "Down to the Cells," review of Captivating Life, p. 7.


2think.org, http://www.2think.org/ (January 1, 2003), review of Phylogeography: The History and Formation of Species.

University of Georgia Genetics Web site, http://www.genetics.uga.edu/ (October 4, 2005), biography of John C. Avise.