PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The California Institute of Technology has announced the death of Roy J. Britten, a pioneering molecular biologist who discovered the crucial fact that humans and animals have multiple copies of some DNA segments.
Caltech says Britten was 92 when he died of pancreatic cancer on Jan. 21 at his Costa Mesa home.
Britten discovered the repetitive DNA sequences in 1968. The sequences don’t provide blueprints for genes but they are critical for development.
Britten and colleague Eric Davidson also helped demonstrate that gene expression — the way certain genes are switched on — during development plays a crucial evolutionary role, such as determining whether an animal has legs or fins. That work laid the foundation for the field of evolutionary biology.
Britten was a researcher at Caltech for many years.