In Memoriam: Dan Lindsley, 1925-2018

June 28, 2018

By Mario Aguilera

Dan Lindsley

Dan Lindsley

Dan Lindsley, a founding biology faculty member at UC San Diego and a renowned leader in fruit fly genetics, died of natural causes on June 22, 2018, at his home in La Jolla. He was 92.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Lindsley arrived at UC San Diego in 1967 and helped build the fledgling Department of Biology into a global leader in molecular and cell biology. The year after arriving at UC San Diego, Lindsley, with Ed Grell, published Genetic Variations in Drosophila melanogaster, a seminal book described as the encyclopedia of mutations and chromosome aberrations in the fruit fly. In 1992 he and Georgianna Zimm updated the information in his second acclaimed book, The Genome of Drosophila melanogaster.

“Dan was one of the preeminent Drosophila geneticists of the 20th century,” said Bill McGinnis, dean of the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences. “He published widely on genetics and developed the first comprehensive organismal genetic/genomic database. He was a sweet and generous man who will be sorely missed.”

Lindsley received B.S. and M.S. degrees in zoology from the University of Missouri. He then joined the graduate program at Caltech where he studied under Alfred Henry Sturtevant, a pioneer geneticist broadly known for his achievements in mapping Drosophila chromosomes (Sturtevant was a student of famed Nobelist Thomas Hunt Morgan). Lindsley received his PhD from Caltech in 1952.

One of Lindsley’s signal accomplishments, along with Larry Sandler, was a systematic study of the importance of gene dosage in Drosophila, discovering that most chromosomal regions of modest size, including tens to hundreds of genes, could be present in either one or three copies with no ill effect on the development and function of fruit flies.

“Dan was one of the few geneticists who stuck with Drosophila during the 1950s-’70s when it was an unpopular ‘model organism,’” said McGinnis.  “During this time, he helped to create a variety of chromosomal ‘tools’ that have since allowed Drosophila researchers to revolutionize the understanding of many biological systems common to all animals, including humans.”

Dan Lindsley waving in his office

From 1967 to 1990, the years Lindsley spent mentoring students and teaching undergraduate courses, he was a strong advocate for lab experimentation and consistently emphasized a hands-on approach to science and teaching. He taught Nobel Prize winners Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Bruce Beutler when they were students at UC San Diego, the latter crediting Lindsley as an extraordinary teacher with great influence.

As department chair in 1978, Lindsley started the annual Biology Department retreats that continue today. He also was instrumental in organizing “fly people” meetings for Southern California Drosophila researchers. Although he retired in 1991, Lindsley continued to stay active in the Division of Biological Sciences and published in peer-reviewed journals as recently as 2016.

Lindsley was awarded the prestigious Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal form the Genetics Society of America in 1989 and a distinguished alumni award from Caltech in 2000.

He is also known for his impressive butterfly collection, which featured many thousands of species from around the world. Lindsley donated his collection to the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, one of the world’s largest collections of its kind.

Lindsley is preceded in death by his wife Jean Lindsley and is survived by his children Kathy Salak, Dale Lindsley, Peggy Lindsley and Dart Lindsley, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. 

The Lindsley family requests that donations are directed to the UC San Diego Biology Founding Faculty Graduate Award. Contact Allyson Aguero in the Biological Science’s Dean’s Office for more information (858-822-4622; 9500 Gilman Drive, #0376, La Jolla, CA 92093-0376).

Biological Sciences Profile on Dan Lindsley

UCTV Profiles in Discovery with Dan Lindsley