2017 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony

Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.
Dean E. Smith Center

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Hooding Ceremony Speaker: Dr. Richard Lenski

Dr. Richard Lenski

Dr. Lenski, who received his doctorate in zoology from UNC-Chapel Hill, is a biologist whose long-term experiment has tracked evolution for more than 65,000 generations of E. coli bacteria. He is the John Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University.

Dr. Lenski has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and elected to the National Academy of Sciences for his pioneering work studying what he calls "evolution in action." He started his evolution experiment in 1988, choosing to study bacteria because they reproduce and evolve quickly. The experiment, which continues to this day, has enabled Dr. Lenski and his students to directly observe the process of adaptation by natural selection, and to examine the repeatability of evolution in a controlled setting. They unexpectedly saw, after some 30,000 generations, the appearance of a new metabolic function in one population that transcends the usual definition of E. coli as a species. Using new technologies, Dr. Lenski's team has sequenced hundreds of genomes to find the mutations responsible for these changes. The results of this experiment have been published in Science, Nature and other leading journals.

He has also collaborated with an interdisciplinary team from computer science, philosophy and physics to study "digital organisms"— that is, computer programs that live and evolve in an artificial world. This computational approach allows the researchers to track every mutational step leading to the emergence of new functions in these evolving programs.