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W. D. Hamilton

W. D. Hamilton (August 1, 1936 - March 7, 2000) was a British biologist who published research in the fields of zoology and genetics. He became famous for his theoretical work expounding a rigorous genetic basis for the existence of kin selection. This insight formed part of the Williams Revolution and he can therefore be seen as one of the forerunners of the discipline of sociobiology founded by E. O. Wilson.

Hamilton's work was popularised by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene and the practice of viewing biology from a gene's point of view was found by many researchers to be both a valuable tool for generating hypotheses that could be tested empirically and as a safeguard against technical errors in analytical argument.

On example of this thinking is found in Dawkins' idea of The Extended Phenotype whereby a viral gene might be expressed through a modification of its host's behaviour that tends promote the transmission of the virus to a new host (for example AIDS might cause promiscuity rather than vice versa). Another example is the recognition that the idea (due to Lynn Margulis) that the cell is the product of the symbosis of (originally distinct) organelles represents a special case of a general principle that organisms are the product of cartels of replicators.

Hamilton died of malaria contracted on his final field trip to Africa which he had devoted to investigating the possibility that that the evolution of the HIV virus from simian immunodeficiency viruses might have been promoted by vaccination programs in the 1950s.

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