Published: April 28, 2006

MSU faculty member elected to National Academy of Sciences

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Richard Lenski, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of microbial ecology, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Lenski is among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 16 countries who were elected to the academy in recognition for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

“We are delighted to see Richard Lenski and his outstanding work being recognized and honored," said Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon. "His achievements in the areas of mutation and adaptation are helping unravel some of the most compelling questions regarding the dynamics of evolution. This honor not only brings distinction to Dr. Lenski, but to his academic unit, his colleagues and to Michigan State University."

Lenski is the director of MSU’s Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Program a multidisciplinary graduate program of study and research. He is a faculty member with appointments in the departments of microbiology and molecular genetics, zoology, and crop and soil sciences.

Lenski’s research focuses on experimental evolution and the ecological processes and genetic mechanisms that cause evolutionary change. His research itself has undergone a fascinating evolution. Lenski’s lab has gained considerable recognition for watching evolution as it happens in the context of experiments performed under controlled conditions. E. coli was the first mechanism to be followed by the revolutionary development of artificial life – a computer program that allows digital organisms to test generalizations about how life has evolved.

“Rich Lenski is an outstanding scientist who has contributed greatly to our understanding of the basic principles of evolution and population biology, said Michael Thomashow, University Distinguished Professor in crop and soil sciences and of microbiology and molecular genetics and another National Academy of Sciences Fellow.

“He and his colleagues pioneered the use of bacteria in long-term test tube evolution experiments to probe how organisms adapt to environmental conditions and produce populations of organisms that have increased fitness. Through the use of self-replicating, mutating computer programs, he and his colleagues have demonstrated that highly complex function can result from random mutation followed by natural selection. Rich’s election to the National Academy of Sciences is a well-deserved recognition of his important contributions to science,” according to Thomashow.

Lenski received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He came to MSU in 1991, and has since received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He also has been elected to the fellowships of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Society for Microbiology, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The election was held during the 143rd annual meeting of the Academy. Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer. Those elected now bring the total number of active members to 2,013, and MSU’s academy membership to eight.

The other MSU faculty members who are active members of the academy are:

  • Martin Bukovac, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of horticulture;
  • James Dye, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of chemistry;
  • Hans Kende, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the MSU-Department of Energy (DOE) Plant Research Laboratory;
  • Michael Thomashow, University Distinguished Professor in crop and soil sciences and of microbiology and molecular genetics;
  • James Tiedje, University Distinguished Professor of crop and soil sciences and microbiology and molecular genetics;
  • Jan Zeevaart, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the DOE Plant Research Laboratory; and
  • Richard Witter, a retired veterinary medical officer with the USDA'S Agricultural Research Service and adjunct emeritus professor in veterinary medicine.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the advancement of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, which calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

For more information about the National Academy of Sciences, visit To learn more about the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Program, go to


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