American Philosophical Society
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203. Evolution & Ecology, Systematics, Population Genetics, Paleontology, and Physical Anthropology[X]
1Name:  Dr. Walter M. Fitch
 Institution:  University of California, Irvine
 Year Elected:  2000
 Class:  2. Biological Sciences
 Subdivision:  203. Evolution & Ecology, Systematics, Population Genetics, Paleontology, and Physical Anthropology
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  1929
 Death Date:  March 10, 2011
Walter Fitch received a Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1958. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison for twenty-four years before moving to the University of California, Irvine in 1986, where he was Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Walter Fitch may be considered the founder of the now widespread discipline of molecular phylogenetics. He developed a method for reconstructing phylogeny based on amino acid sequences and applied it first to the cytochrome c's of 20 species in one of the most cited papers in the field of molecular evolution (Science, 1967). He developed additional methods for phylogeny reconstruction, including parsimony, the most widely used (Systematic Zoology, 1971). Fitch's contributions in molecular evolution have contributed to settle issues such as the phylogeny of South American Indian tribes, the rate of evolution of mice strains, and albumin evolution in reptiles. He pioneered the theory of the molecular evolutionary clock. Most recently, he moved evolutionary theory from reconstructing the past to predicting the future. In a series of papers analyzing the pattern of evolution of the influenza virus, his method has correctly predicted in nine out of eleven years the strain that would predominantly infect the human population in the following season, a significant finding in developing vaccines. Dr. Fitch was the founder of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, and served as editor-in-chief from 1983-93. He had also served on the editorial board of Systematic Zoology, Journal of Molecular Evolution, and Genomics, and was on the advisory board of Biochemical Genetics since 1966. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the Human Genome Organization, and a foreign member of the Linnean Society. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2000. Walter Fitch died on March 10, 2011, at the age of 81 in Irvine, California.
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