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June 16, 2017

Rich Lenski elected associate member of the European Molecular Biology Organization

Richard Lenski, Michigan State University John Hannah Distinguished Professor and evolutionary biologist renowned for his E. coli Long-Term Experimental Evolution Project, has been elected an associate member of the European Molecular Biology Organization.

Lenski was one of 65 life scientists elected to EMBO’s membership in 2017. This cohort joins a group of more than 1,700 of the best researchers in Europe and around the world.

“Election to the EMBO Membership is recognition of research excellence, and I am pleased to welcome so many great scientists to our organization,” said EMBO director Maria Leptin. “We received more nominations than ever before during this election cycle, which pays tribute to the strength and diversity of the European life sciences.”

The main focus of Lenski’s lab is experimental evolution. In 1988, Lenski began an experiment with 12 populations of E. coli, all started from the same ancestral strain and all living in identical environments, to see how similarly or differently they would evolve. He initially wanted to keep the experiment going for at least a year and about 2,000 bacterial generations, maybe longer. The long-term experiment with E. coli is now past 67,000 generations and had its 29th birthday earlier this year in February.

“It’s a nice honor,” Lenski said, “but it really reflects the outstanding and dedicated work of many terrific students, postdocs and technicians, as well as collaborations over the years.”

During this time, Lenski and his research team have quantified changes in the bacteria’s competitive fitness, analyzed whole genome sequences to find the beneficial mutations responsible for their adaptation and measured spontaneous mutation rates to discover changes in DNA-repair functions—among many other approaches and findings.

“Rich is exceptionally well deserving of election as an EMBO Associate Member,” said Vic DiRita, MSU Department of Molecular Biology chair. “His Long-Term Evolution Experiment has captivated the field with its elegance and power, and he and his trainees have uncovered important new knowledge of evolution and adaptation from it.  Rich showed tremendous vision by setting up this deceptively simple experiment nearly 30 years ago.”  

“Rich’s election to EMBO is a testament to his pioneering research and international leadership in the study of the molecular mechanisms of evolution,” added Tom Getty, MSU Department of Integrative Biology chair. “We are proud to have Rich as a member of our department and are grateful for his generous internal leadership and service to his MSU colleagues and communities.”

Lenski holds joint appointments in the Departments of Integrative Biology and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the College of Natural Science, and the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He is also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist.

New EMBO members and associate members will be formally welcomed at the EMBO Members’ Meeting in Heidelberg in October.

By: Val Osowski