My last research paper is published

Thie paper below is the culmination of research started at least ten years ago in Chicago, but, due to various glitches and re-doing the research in a more thorough way, it didn’t see light for a decade. The paper also represents a collaboration between several investigators, starting with my last NIH grant, but was delayed because of the need to do DNA sequencing (which I couldn’t do), and then the arrival of better, faster, and cheaper DNA-sequencing methods, which allowed us to sequence 20 million bases of DNA for the final paper.

It’s finally appeared as an “early online” paper in Genetics, and will be in the journal soon (I hope). Click on the screenshot to see the online version (pdf here), which isn’t as spiffy-looking as the published version will be. Since I’m not doing any more research with my own hands, this represents what I think will be my last research paper, but perhaps not my last refereed scientific paper.

I’ll explain the results as briefly as I can when the paper appears in final form, but if you want to read it now, it’s free.  I want to say two things, though.

First, I think it’s a really cool experiment, and a good way to go out. It’s the sort of experiment that every evolutionary geneticist thinks of, wants to do, but realizes that it’s dicey because it takes a long time and you might not get the answer before applying for your next grant. Fortunately, this was a major part of what I knew would be my last NIH grant, so I was under no pressure to finish the experiment in the three-year granting period. The question involved was this: if you thoroughly mix two different species of Drosophila, producing a “hybrid swarm” that has the DNA and cytoplasm of both species in equal proportion, what happens to that swarm? Does it evolve into a new species? Or does it revert back to one or the other parental species, and, if so, does it revert to the same species over and over again when you make replicate swarms? And if there is such reversion, how much is reflected in morphology, behavior, and DNA sequence? (That is, does the evolved swarm superficially resemble one of the parental species but still contains DNA from both species?) Or does the admixture produce a swarm that is not a “new species” (like the hybrid parrots that the Washington Post got wrong), but simply a mixed population of mongrels that isn’t reproductively isolated from its parents?

The answer, it turned out, was very clear, repeatable, and quite interesting. But stay tuned.

Second, my very first real research paper, published in 1972 based on my undergraduate research at William and Mary—and also on speciation—appeared in Genetics as well, which is a very good journal. (That paper is free online here.) So there’s been a pleasing symmetry in my research career.


  1. Bruce Cochrane
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Nice work – and career!

    • JezGrove
      Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:02 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    A significant milestone in your career! Congratulations! I’m looking forward to hearing the answer to the research question so I will definitely “stay tuned”.

  3. Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    “The answer, it turned out, was very clear, repeatable, and quite interesting. But stay tuned.”

    With a build-up like that I just had to click on the article to find out!

    • HBB
      Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Congratulations! The symmetry with the journal Genetics is a really cool way to wrap up an exceptional career of scientific publishing. As someone who (hopefully) will publish a few more papers before calling it; is the last one as much fun as the first one?

      • Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        It depends on what you mean “as much fun”. I suppose the answer would be “yes” in the sense of the last experiment being much more comprehensive and we waited the outcome with great anticipation. And when the data were finally crunched (I had my own data, so I knew the behavioral and morphological outcome), it was a really nice moment.

    • Posted January 23, 2020 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and it was way cool! Seems like a result that would be predictable to an expert like Jerry, but I look forward to the explanation.

  4. Frank Bath
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Well done. We await the reveal. I note your name is placed last among the researchers…

    • Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I had the choice of being first author or last author, but my ex-student, Daniel Matute, did most of the work, and he was also at the beginning of his career as a professor, so I did the right thing.

  5. Simon Hayward
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Are you sure it’s the last? My postdoc advisor “retired” for the first time, I think it was 13 years ago. He closed his lab and after a while ended up squatting in someone else’s for a few years (which was a good arrangement for everyone). He published what he claimed was his last paper ever last year and told me, “that’s it I’m finally retired”. Last week I got an email request followed by a box of slides and a request to stain them – “…I think there is another paper…”

    • Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      LOL. I don’t think I’ll be like him, though!

      • Dominic
        Posted January 24, 2020 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        Pretty fly for an old guy! 😉

  6. Paul S
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Looks like I’ve got homework to do before I read the answer. 🙂

  7. Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations. But how do you know it’s your last research paper? You are active intellectually. Could be more down the road.

  8. uommibatto
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink


  9. GBJames
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious to find out if the results were what you expected.

  10. Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Very cool! I will look this over once I get more time this evening. But for now, congratulations!

  11. Teresa Carson
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, Jerry! I like the symmetry of your publishing career, and I feel honored to have played a small part in ushering a few of those papers through the publication process. It has all turned out quite well!

  12. Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I just read the abstract because most of the rest of the paper would probably be beyond me. I’ll refrain from discussing it because that might be a spoiler for your future article.

    I did notice that you got the “and”.

  13. Raskos
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this – I’m revising my Intro to Evolution notes for later this semester and this will be useful.

  14. rickflick
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations for a long and productive career. It occurs to me that publishing new knowledge is a great way for a scientist to appreciate his/her contribution to society. Definitely a source of pride. In these troubled times (politics), when I begin to lose all hope for humanity, the thought of science marching on reminds me that most humans are doing just fine.

  15. Alex K.
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Just read the abstract. The results could have an interesting implication concerning genetic drift in relation to geographic isolation.

  16. darrelle
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    This sounds very intriguing! Especially after reading the abstract. Most of it is probably a bit beyond me I’m sure, but I’ll try slogging through the paper this weekend. I’m very much looking forward to your explanation of the results.

    I’ll tell you Jerry, from what I’ve gotten to know of you over the years you’ve been hosting WEIT, your career seems to have been rather enviable to me. Reminiscent of a scientist hero comic book serial like Johnny Quest, minus the cheese.

  17. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 3:08 pm | Permalink


  18. Mark R.
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Like Frodo Baggins, you’re full of surprises. Congratulations! Looking forward to reading the results. The advancement in DNA sequencing technology has opened many new horizons in biology- politics is going to hell, but biology continues to amaze.

  19. Posted January 23, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Bravo, PCC(E). Thanks for making flies so freakin’ fascinating. You’re such a stand-up guy, putting your name last on the paper.

  20. Posted January 23, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Went through it (gave it a good skimming. Sorry to not have time for more). Interesting idea that it could have been primarily selection for reproduction rather than internecine conflict that led to the extinction of Neanderthals.

  21. Jim batterson
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations jerry. Symmetry of journal but super asymmetry in moving from two authors in the same dept (you and your advisor) on first paper to an international cast you led on final research paper. Nice to tie things up this way.

  22. Roo
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations! Will be curious to hear what conclusions you draw from this, as the likely implications are beyond me.

  23. Muffy Ferro
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    That’s really cool, Jerry, and thanks to the fact that I’ve now finished reading WEIT, I think I’ll be able to understand the broad points of the paper.

  24. Posted January 23, 2020 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to choose this paper to discuss next time I lead the lab discussion

  25. Susan Davies
    Posted January 23, 2020 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations. Going out with a bang!

  26. Posted January 24, 2020 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Well done Professor Ceiling Cat, Emeritus!

  27. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 24, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    My last research paper

    You’re going to wake up tomorrow morning with a howlingly good research idea that can be done in two weeks with two balls of string and a blob of sealing-wax.

  28. Andrea Kenner
    Posted January 25, 2020 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on a lifetime of good work! Yasher koach!

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] I wrote briefly about this paper three days ago, but can be a bit more expansive here. It stemmed from a piece of work that almost every evolutionary geneticist I know has wanted to do, but that kind of study is dicey because it’s exploratory and, more important, takes a long time to carry out. With grants lasting about three years, there’s no way this research could have been conducted and finished within a single granting period, and that means that if you start it under a funded proposal, you won’t have anything much to show when it’s time to renew your grant. As I said before, I thus wrote the NIH proposal for this study as part of my very last grant, so I didn’t need to worry about having results within three years. […]

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