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Michael Lynch

Distinguished Professor -- Founders Day 2005

Distinguished Professor
Senior Fellow, Indiana Molecular Biology Institute
Department of Biology
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 2001
B.S., Saint Bonaventure University, 1973
Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1977

From his path-breaking model of "mutational meltdown," which predicts how mutations in small populations drive extinction, to his current project studying the genome of the crustacean Daphnia pulex, biologist Michael Lynch is extraordinarily wide-ranging both in his areas of interest and in his contributions to science.

According to his colleagues in the IU Bloomington Department of Biology, Distinguished Professors Rudolf Raff and Jeffrey Palmer, Lynch "has had a profound and far-reaching impact on this large and diverse department in its intellectual life, its research programs, its students, and its national and international reputation."

Lynch is "a world leader in both evolutionary theory and in experimental studies of evolution, a rare combination," say Raff and Palmer. Andrew Clark, professor of population genetics at Cornell University, says, "He is a leader in the field in every sense of the word, and yet it is clear that he is in the trenches, doing the detailed analysis like he always has."

In broad terms, Lynch's field is evolutionary biology. He studies the mechanisms of evolution, including the evolution of genes and how mutations affect the evolutionary process. In fact, this field comprises several different areas of specialty, from quantitative genetics to evolutionary genomics, any one of which would provide ample scope for a lifetime of study. Lynch has made major contributions to all of them.

Among his many accomplishments: A theory accounting for genetic duplication; pioneering work in ecological genetics; and extensive work -- both empirical and theoretical -- on mutation rates, including the "mutational meltdown" model that builds on the work of legendary IU geneticist Hermann Muller.

"The intellectual content of each of these bodies of work is at the highest level," says Michael T. Clegg, Donald Bren Professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Mike Lynch has defined the future directions of his science."

Distinguished colleagues from the United States and Canada consistently refer to the diversity and importance of Lynch's work and to his "sheer, astonishing productivity."

Wen-Hsiung Li, James Watson Professor at the University of Chicago, says, "The breadth and depth of his contributions to evolution and population genetics are extraordinary, covering conservation genetics, evolution of quantitative traits, speciation, molecular evolution, and genome evolution."

Lynch's 1998 book, Evolution of Quantitative Traits, co-written with Bruce Walsh, is described by the University of Wisconsin's Emeritus Professor of Genetics James F. Crow as "a masterpiece" that has become the standard text in the field of quantitative genetics.

Professor Trudy F. C. Mackay, of North Carolina State University, describes Lynch as "one of the leading evolutionary quantitative geneticists in the world."

"Professor Michael Lynch has achieved true distinction in scholarship," says Elizabeth C. Raff, professor and chair of the IU Department of Biology. "He has also brought distinction to his profession and to IU."

In recognition of his important contributions to evolutionary biology, Lynch was elected in 2002 as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honor shared by only a handful of IU scholars. In 1998 he was named a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he has held many other positions of honor, including fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for Limnology in Germany. He has also served as president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, which is the premier professional society in evolutionary biology. Lynch is on the editorial boards of some of the leading journals in his discipline and has served on funding review panels for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

In addition, Lynch has had exceptional success securing National Science Foundation funding for major research projects, including $5 million for a multi-university study of the Daphnia genome, which according to Rudolf Raff and Jeffrey Palmer has "transformed IU Bloomington into one of the world centers in animal evolutionary genome studies." He has also obtained substantial NSF funding for an innovative multidisciplinary graduate training program in evolution, development, and genomics.

"Lynch is extraordinarily diverse in his contributions to evolutionary biology and to biology in general," says Curtis Lively, IU professor of biology. "I think he will be remembered as one of the best evolutionists of his generation."