National Academy of Sciences elects Baylor Bio Alumnus into membership.May 14, 2008
Baylor Biology alumnus David Mark Hillis of Austin has been elected into membership in the National Academy of Sciences. Hillis is currently the Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor in Natural Sciences at the University of Texas.
Established by a congressional act in 1863, NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers whose 2,025 active members are dedicated to furthering science and using it for the general welfare. Upon request, the academy advises the federal government on matters of science and technology. Among the NAS's renowned members are Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and Alexander Graham Bell. More than 180 living Academy members have won Nobel Prizes.
Hillis's research examines the molecular basis of how evolution occurs, as well as the products of evolution. His work often takes place with experiments with viruses, by studying natural biological systems, and through mathematical modeling and simulation. He often applies his findings to quickly-evolving human pathogens to better understand their biology and develop treatments.
Since 1863, the nation's leaders have often turned to NAS for advice on the scientific and technological issues that frequently pervade policy decisions. Hillis hopes that his involvement with NAS can make contributions to science education. "I have been very involved in improving science education," Hillis says. "I think this will give me an opportunity to become even more involved in that area. In addition, I'm interested in the practical applications of evolutionary biology to human health and environmental problems."
Hillis received the M.A., M.Ph., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Kansas. In 1999 he was awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and in 2000, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to his research, Hillis started the Double Helix ranch, which allows him to combine his love of Texas and expertise in biology. He studies Texas Longhorns, which, unlike most breeds of cattle, are the product of hundreds of years of natural selection. The Texas Longhorn has a strong genetic code that enables the breed to have good health and fitness. Hillis says, "They are much longer lived than other breeds of cattle, have no birthing problems, are resistant to most major cattle diseases, and have much higher reproductive potential. So, they are a natural for me to study from a genetic perspective, and it allows me to stay connected to the land and manage a ranch as well."