Francisco José Ayala, one of the most prestigious Spanish scientists, has died at the age of 88, as published the scientist Lawrence Krauss on his website. With a degree in Theology and Physics, he had been ordained as a Dominican priest in 1960, but a year later he hung up the habit to go study in the United States with Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the fathers of the current understanding of evolution. He had been interested in genetics at the University of Salamanca, researching the vinegar fly with Fernando Galán, and was attracted to evolution under the influence of the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin.
He was director of the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the University of California (Irvine) since 1989, and among his contributions is a better understanding of the molecular clock, which allows estimating the moment in which two species separated during evolution. He has also made important contributions on the reproduction of the Trypanosoma cruziwhich causes chagas disease, or the evolution of Plasmodium, which causes malaria.
As a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, which he entered at the age of 45, he participated in the beginnings of the Human Genome Project, which would end with the complete sequencing of the first genome. “One of the things that was considered was sequencing the genome, but we didn’t know how to do it. In the mid-1980s, sequencing methods began to appear and they thought about doing it, and they asked the Academy if it should be done, and our committee said yes, let it be done. It was calculated that it would take 15 years and that it would cost about 3,000 million dollars. Then it was finished two years earlier and at a lower cost, ”she recalled in an interview in EL PAÍS.
He has published dozens of books on scientific subjects, but has also been interested in ethical issues or the relationship between science and religion. In his opinion, Catholicism is compatible with the teachings of biology, although he does not believe that this is the case for creationism. For these contributions to the dialogue between science and religion, he received the Templeton Prize in 2010, endowed with 1.2 million euros, more than the Nobel.
ayala he lost all his positions and recognitions at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), in 2018, for accusations of sexual harassment made by four women. The scientist had to resign after an internal investigation into “a series of complaints” of sexual harassment against him that was completed after interviewing more than 60 witnesses from the institution, in addition to the complainants.
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