NEW YORK - James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired yesterday as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board.
In a statement, he noted that, at 79, he is overdue to surrender leadership positions at the lab, which he joined as director in 1968 and served as president until 2003. But he said the circumstances of his resignation "are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired."
Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA and later headed the American government's part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week.
Watson, who has a reputation for sometimes making incendiary off-the-cuff remarks, did not say he had been misquoted.
Within days, the Cold Spring board had relieved him of the administrative responsibilities of the chancellor's job. In that position, a spokesman for the laboratory said, he was most involved with educational efforts and fund-raising.
In his statement announcing his resignation, he said he would remain at the laboratory, working particularly on cancer research. "Final victory is within our grasp," he said. "I wish to be among those at the victory line."
After he left Harvard to direct the laboratory, Watson transformed it from a small facility into a world-class institution prominent in research on cancer, plant biology, neuroscience, and computational biology, the board said in announcing his retirement. Bruce Stillman, who succeeded him as president, said that Watson had created an unparalleled research environment at the lab.