Yale Recruits Evolution Experts To Launch Microbial Diversity Institute

Two internationally renowned experts on evolution have been hired to anchor the new Microbial Diversity Institute at Yale’s West Campus.

Nancy A. Moran, Regents’ Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Howard Ochman, Regents’ Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics — both from the University of Arizona — will become professors in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. They are scheduled to begin work at Yale on January 1.

“We are extremely excited about the research excellence, intellectual creativity, and leadership in evolutionary biology and microbiology that Howard and Nancy will be bringing to Yale,” said Richard O. Prum, the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Ochman will be director of the Microbial Diversity Institute, one of five institutes to be created on Yale’s West Campus. Moran and Ochman will be involved in graduate and undergraduate teaching in ecology and evolutionary biology as well.

“Nancy Moran and Howard Ochman are the perfect team to lead our new West Campus initiative on microbial diversity, and to galvanize research in this area spanning the Medical School, Engineering, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and even the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. I couldn’t be more delighted,” said Michael Donoghue, Vice President for West Campus Planning and Program Development.

Moran was a 1997 recipient of a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation award and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and current chair of the Section on Evolutionary Biology of the National Academy. She does research on genetic co-evolution between aphids and the symbiotic bacteria that live within them. Moran has shown that the interaction between aphids and their symbionts has led to evolution of cooperative physiological pathways in which both share genes. She has pursued this topic using ecological, comparative, experimental, and genomic methods. She is also interested broadly in the contribution of symbiosis to evolutionary novelty and success.

Ochman is an expert on population genetics and molecular evolution of bacterial genomes. His lab has studied many examples of microbial evolution in human pathogens and many other bacteria. Ochman’s work was instrumental in our understanding of the importance and limitations of gene transfer between bacteria in wild populations. In particular, he has shown that one gene transferred among different bacteria can contribute to pathogenesis in humans.

“Scientists from several fields, even many outside of biology, have come to understand that microbes rule the world,” Ochman said. “The Microbial Diversity Institute on West Campus will bring together researchers interested in the diverse interactions of microbes with other organisms and in the environment.”

Moran is a graduate of the University of Texas and did her graduate and doctoral work at the University of Michigan.

Ochman received his undergraduate degree from Vassar College and his graduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Rochester.

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Media Contact

Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322