Rick Lathrop

Tributes from ISCB fellows

Tandy Warnow

Dear friends and colleagues,

Rick Lathrop, one of the early pioneers in bioinformatics, died a few days ago. Lathrop was Professor Emeritus at UC Irvine in the Department of Computer Science, where he had been on the faculty since 1995. Among his many contributions to bioinformatics, he is possibly best known for his work on protein structure prediction, especially protein threading, which included collaborations with Walter Fitch, Temple Smith, David Haussler, and others.

Rick was the founding Treasurer of the ISCB, and had been on the Board of Directors. He served as Chair on the NIH BDMA (BioData Management and Analysis) study section, as well as Chair of the NIH special review panel for Big Data to Knowledge. He received his BA in Mathematics from Reed College, and his masters and PhD in Artificial Intelligence from MIT.

I knew Rick both personally and professionally. He was a very kind and generous person. He gave me great advice when I was becoming Chair of BDMA, and was a good friend to my family. It is sad that we won't see him again. See his biography on his webpage for more information. Tandy Warnow

Russ Altman

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:19 PM

Thanks for letting us know, Tandy. This is very sad -- I worked with Rick at the founding of ISCB and he was a pleasure to work with.


(P.S. Oh! I forgot to mention that Rick taught me how to snorkel in 1993 at the Systems Science meeting in Hawaii and this contributed in no small way to my subsequent involvement as a co-organizer of the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing!

Larry Hunter

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:26 PM

RickL was a delightful human being as well as an outstanding scholar. He was among the very first scientists to apply AI techniques to molecular biology. We should definitely honor his memory at the next ISMB.


Burkhard Rost

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:34 PM

thanks Tandy.

Rick has struck me always as being unusual peaceful, as the one finding compromises through many heated BoD discussions. Having been instilled a little by his spirit stands ISCB in good stead!

One of the many contributions: without Rick's diplomacy, we would have remained closed to Open Access for much longer. This affected the ISCB journal policy, its stance with respect to all the other societies of experimental biology we had some liaison with at the time, and even our readiness to publish work presented at ISMB.

Thanks a squillion Rick, you will be dearly missed.

Burkhard Rost

Alfonso Valencia

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:38 PM

Very sad news indeed. One of his papers in the early 80's has a fundamental influence for me. Having later the opportunity to meet him in the foundation of ISCB was a great honor and a privilege.


Pavel Pevzner

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:56 PM

This is very sad. I met Rick during my visit to UCI a decade ago and learned that he was a world-traveler and a big adventurer who had visited the most remote places on this planet.


Steven Salzberg

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 3:57 PM

This is very sad news indeed.

When I was still quite new to the field, I edited a book on computational biology, and somehow a number of very good scientists, including Rick Lathrop, generously agreed to contribute chapters. He wrote a chapter on protein threading (with Temple Smith and others, but Rick was first author) that was one of the highlights of the book when it appeared, 25 years ago.


Phil Bourne

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 4:03 PM

Thank you for letting us know Tandy. Sad news indeed. Rick was an inspiration to me and a wonderful sounding board both on ISMB matters as well as our joint suffering and joy within the UC system. While at NIH we were on opposite sides of the table where his attention to detail and thoughtfulness were much appreciated. We have lost a pioneer.


Satoru Miyano

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 4:37 PM

Dear Tandy,

Thank you for letting us. Very sad. He served as the program co-chair of "The Thirteenth International Conference on Genome Informatics" (GTW 2002). that was held in Tokyo. A poioneer, a friend, has gone.


Bill Noble

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 4:50 PM

When I was still a grad student at UCSD, my PhD advisor, Charles Elkan, arranged for me to drive up to UCI and have lunch with Rick in the faculty club. I remember being nervous and, as a result, talking big about topics that I really didn't know too much about. I had the distinct impression that Rick was well aware but also forgiving. I was always pleased to see him at conferences. He seemed like an old soul.


Zhipeng Weng

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 5:26 PM

So sad. I learned a lot from his threading papers. He was a wonderful scientist and teacher!

Terry Gaasterland

Date: Guesday, September 26, 2023 at 6:41 PM

We have lost a strong voice and strong character whose persistent and relentless pursuit of the seemingly impossible forged new frontiers in our field, in our losing Rick Lathrop.

May Rick's thinking, guidance, and deep patience live on in all of us and our students to follow.

Peace be with you, Rick.

Peter Karp

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 6:55 PM

I first met Rick in about 1987 at the BioMatrix workshop in Santa Fe. It was great to meet another Lisp hacker so far from home! For that matter, as I recall there were not that many AI people at that workshop, so we were comrades in that respect as well.

Rick and I drove to the top of Mauna Kea together one year at PSB, and began to smell the rental car's brakes burning up on the way down, which caused my adrenalin at least to surge a bit (Rick was driving).

I will miss him.


Michael Levitt

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 7:02 PM

Dear Tandy, Friends and Fellow ISCB Members,

Tandy's news is sad. We have lost an impressive contributor to our field.

Deaths are like bells that ring out passing time. They serve as a time for thinking back to old memories. The many lovely comments in this stream, which I am only reading having just awoken in Seoul, make such thoughts all the more vivid.

I remember Rick well perhaps because we lived in Lathrop Drive in Stanford. Wanting more clarity I searched emails, which I have kept since the 1980's (BitMail I think it was called). My first mention of Rick is from Russ Altman and concerns ISMB in Nov. 1994. A few months later Rick & I met at the fist PMMB Sante Fe Meeting.

In August 1986 he lectured at Stanford with the prescient abstract: "In recent years Artificial Intelligence has found a rich application domain in molecular biology. The domain offers large on-line databases, interested and supportive domain practitioners, an accessible domain theory and vocabulary, and a great many difficult and important problems. In this talk I will survey the domain and its opportunities for AI, discuss three case studies in AI and molecular biology that I have been involved with, and make suggestions for AI practitioners interested in working in this fascinating area."

Rick was a real pioneer of the glory days we now enjoy. May his memory endure for our ever.


Thomas Lengauer

Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 3:02 AM

Dear Tandy,

I am shocked and saddened to hear of Rick's untimely passing. He was a major contributor to our field.

The two of us go back to even before bioinformatics days. In the eighties our paths crossed when both of us were doing research on VLSI systems. Then we found each other again in the new compbio arena in the nineties. I had many happy and inspiring exchanges with Rick in the early days but we somehow lost sight of each other lately. I had always hoped to get the chance to talk to him again and I am so sad that this is not possible anymore. We will remember him.



Gary Stormo

Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2003 at 8:28 AM

I'm so sorry to hear of Rick's passing. I knew of him from his early work on protein structure prediction. Then after a meeting in Japan in 1995 (or maybe 1996) we had a free day and, along with Ed Uberbacher, took a train toward Mount Fuji. Didn't have time to climb, but we did do some site seeing the vicinity and had great conversations during the trip. He made important contributions in both research and education as well as his important roles for ISCB. Truly sad to hear that he is gone.


Soren Brunak

Date: Wednesay, September 27, 2023 at 6:45 PM

Very sad, Rick was a great guy. When talking to him, or listening to his talks, I always felt that he knew how proteins worked. Deep and quite different from those who just submitted data to an algorithm and commented on the result. A renaissance personality that made the field exciting from the very start.

Pierre Baldi

Date: Thursday, September 28, 2023, at 1:33 PM

To honor Rick's memory, many have mentioned his research, teaching, and service contributions. A less well known, but at least as important, characteristic of Rick's work is that he was a serial entrepreneur who co-founded several companies, including: Arris Pharmaceutical, CODA Genomics, Verdezyne, Group IV, and Actvalon. His thoughtfulness and attention to detail were a positive force throughout his translational efforts.