Two Washington University in St. Louis professors have been elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The new fellows are Sarah C.R. Elgin, PhD, the Viktor Hamburger Professor of Arts & Sciences; and Alan R. Templeton, PhD, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences.
“I am delighted to have two of our outstanding faculty receive this tremendous honor,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Professors Elgin and Templeton are two dedicated scholars, and this recognition is well-deserved. This achievement symbolizes the good fortune we have had at Washington University in attracting premier faculty.”
Elgin and Templeton are among 220 American men and women elected as fellows this year by the academy, an organization formed in 1780 to cultivate the arts and sciences and to recognize leadership in scholarship, business, the arts and public affairs.
The academy’s current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize winners. Fellows are selected through a competitive process that recognizes individuals who have made pre-eminent contributions to their disciplines and to society at large.
This year’s new fellows and foreign honorary members will be welcomed during an Oct. 6 induction ceremony at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
Elgin joined the Department of Biology in 1981 and became a full professor in 1984. She was installed as the inaugural Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences in 2006.
Besides her primary appointment in biology, Elgin holds joint appointments as professor of education in Arts & Sciences; and as professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and professor of genetics in the School of Medicine.
Her research focuses on the role of chromatin structure in regulating fruit fly (Drosophila) genes. (Chromatin is the complex of DNA and proteins that coil into chromosomes at some stages of the cell cycle.)
Her laboratory has developed a number of approaches that have contributed to the understanding of how DNA is packaged in the nucleus, including how critical regulatory regions are maintained in an accessible form.
Her current focus is on heterochromatin structure and gene silencing. (Heterochromatin is a tightly packed form of DNA that is largely inaccessible to the machinery of the cell needed for gene expression.) Her lab identified HP1, a critical protein for heterochromatin formation that has been conserved from the yeast S. pombe to man.
Studies of the small fourth chromosome in the Drosophila genome have highlighted the importance of repetitious elements (fragments of retroviruses and DNA transposons that invade our genomes) in determining which regions of the genome should be silenced and have suggested that an RNAi-based mechanism is critical for HP1 deposition and silencing of the repeats.
In the late 1980s, Elgin started working with the University City School District in a science education partnership, which has since expanded to create the Office of Science Outreach, whose mission is to serve K-12 students and their teachers through creative curriculum development and teacher professional development activities. The office now is part of the Institute for School Partnership, directed by Victoria May.
In 2002, Elgin became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor with the ambition of developing core curriculum that would integrate primary research in genomics with a college course. This project has been expanded and disseminated as the Genomics Education Partnership, a consortium of more than 80 college and university faculty who are engaging their students in sequence improvement and annotation projects with the goal of publishing the results in primary research journals.
Elgin got off to a flying start, studying fallout in Oregon rainwater from Soviet nuclear weapons tests while still in high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pomona College in 1967. While at Pomona, she participated in a summer research program at the University of Leeds characterizing the egg stalk of the green lacewing fly Chrysopa vittata.
Elgin earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1971, where her thesis concerned nonhistone chromosomal proteins, examining primarily rat tissues.
After postdoctoral work at Caltech, Elgin joined the faculty at Harvard University, where her lab pioneered immunostaining of polytene chromosomes from Drosophila larval salivary glands and the use of nuclease digestion assays to analyze chromatin structure at specific genes. (Polytene chromosomes are giant chromosomes produced when DNA is replicated but the cell doesn’t divide.) She moved from Harvard to WUSTL eight years later.
Elgin has served on the editorial boards of many of the distinguished journals in her field. She also was founding co-editor in chief of CBE-Life Science Education, where she remains a senior editor.
She has been named an “Outstanding St. Louis Scientist” by the St. Louis Academy of Science and was presented with WUSTL’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 1993.
Elgin has received numerous awards for her outstanding service to students.
In 2004, then-Missouri Governor Bob Holden presented her with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Arts & Sciences students have twice presented her with a faculty award for her involvement in fostering students’ academic development and research opportunities.
In December 2006, she received the Bruce Alberts Science Education Award from the American Society for Cell Biology; in May 2007, she received the Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; and in 2009, she received the Genetics Society of America’s Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education.
Templeton joined the WUSTL faculty in 1977 as an associate professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences and in the Department of Genetics in the School of Medicine. He soon became a professor both of biology and of genetics and, in 2001, he was named the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology.
In addition to his primary appointment as professor of biology, he currently is a research associate of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a professor of biomedical engineering in WUSTL’s School of Engineering & Applied Science, a visiting professor at the Technion in Israel, a professor in the division of statistical genomics at WUSTL’s School of Medicine, and a professor (part-time) at the University of Haifa in Israel.
Templeton’s work involves the application of molecular genetic techniques and statistical population genetics to a variety of evolutionary problems, both basic and applied.
He takes an evolutionary approach to clinical genetics, including the study of the genetics of complex diseases, such as coronary artery disease and end-stage kidney disease.
He also applies evolutionary genetics to conservation biology, one focus being the impact of managed forest fires at the landscape level on the population structure of Ozark species, such as the Eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) and lichen grasshoppers (Trimerotropis saxatilis).
He also is studying the impact of human activities upon dispersal of the endangered fire salamander (Salamandra infraimmuculata) in Northern Israel and the wild ass in Southern Israel.
He is interested in basic questions about evolution, such as the meaning of “species” and the mechanisms by which new species evolve, and human evolution over the past two million years.
He is particularly well-known for work demonstrating that the genetic differences between humans populations are insufficient to define them as different races, using defintiions of race that are applied to other species.
According to Templeton’s research, perceived differences in races are more related to cultural perceptions and biases than any underlying genetic reality. For example, Templeton’s statistical analysis of the human genome shows that much greater genetic diversity exists between populations of chimpanzees than of humans.
Templeton earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at WUSTL in 1969. He earned a master’s degree in statistics and a doctoral degree in human genetics at the University of Michigan, both in 1972.
He held positions at the University of Michigan, University of Hawaii, University of Texas at Austin and Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil before returning to St. Louis.
A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Academy of Science of St. Louis, he has served as the editor or associate editor of many of the journals in his field, and his own articles have often been among the most highly cited for a given year.
He is perhaps proudest, however, of the awards he has received for helping protect endangered species. The St. Louis Zoological Garden twice won the Edward Bean Award for management programs he helped design, first for the Speke’s gazelle and then for the banteng/guar.
The Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service have recognized his work in the Missouri Ozarks, which helped a number of endemic species as well as the collared lizard.